Growing up to a metre in length and weighing between 5-15kg, with a body covered by large keratin scales (the same material as human fingernails), the ground pangolin (manis temminckii) will freeze at the first signs of danger, making it very easy to overlook.
Using a well developed sense of smell to locate its food, the ground pangolin will dig into termite and ant nests with its powerful claws to expose its food. It’s tongue is long and rounded and attached by muscles to a free floating cartilaginous structure which in turn is triggered by a series of muscles running the length of the body. This allows for an enormous extension of the tongue which, with its accessory muscle structure, can be longer than the head and body. It’s sticky tongue is extended into the nest and withdrawn with adults, larvae and pupae, as well as large amount of grit, attached. They have no teeth and the ingested food is ground up by it’s muscular stomach with the assistance of the ingested grit.
Although the ground pangolin is primarily a solitary nocturnal forager, cold Kalahari winter impacts on the availability of food at night. They are therefore required to become more active during daylights hours in order to acquire enough food to sustain them. With a powerful set of front claws growing up to 45mm in length used for excavating ants and termites, the forelimbs are unsuitable for walking leading to the pangolin walking on its hind limbs and occasionally using its forelimbs for balance. This bizarre gait leads to the pangolin leaving behind a fairly unique set of tracks to follow. These conditions therefore make for much more frequent encounters.
On this specific encounter, we spotted tracks of a pangolin crossing the road in the early morning. Knowing that there was possibly a pangolin in the area, everyone become extra alert, and before long it was seen crossing the road a short distance ahead of them. Although it is considered to be one of the rarer creatures to encounter in Africa, with the winter climate, soft sands for tracking and wide open landscapes, the Southern Kalahari is probably one of the best places to view this elusive animal.