“I would like to see a pangolin” was the request of a pax I accompanied last year! As so often happens, while the Ranger drives from the landing strip to the Lodge, the group are asked what game they would really want to see. On this occasion I could read the Ranger’s body language as his shoulders imperceptibly slumped against the seat.
The last of several Reserves we visited on this particular tour was Singita. The Ranger informed the pax that a sighting of a Pangolin was highly unlikely although he would try his best to find one! The lady in question, who had by now posed the request five or six times, was not so easily fobbed off this time and was fairly insistent, declaring that she had seen the big five on more than one occasion and the last of her list was a pangolin!
We set off on the first game drive of our visit and not before long the Ranger had found rhino and a large herd of elephant that tested his driving skills to the full as he drove down a deep gully in order to get to them. As the sun splashed across the autumn shades of the mopani leaves a leopard stepped straight in front of the vehicle. We followed him till the sun went down and after drinks the group were more than happy to retire to the Lodge for dinner.
More was in store as the ranger came across a family of honey badger, the youngsters being intrigued with the tyres of the vehicle, which gave everyone the opportunity of observing them at close range. As we marveled at the little creatures the Ranger told us that he had been informed that one of the other Rangers had radioed in to say that he had found a Pangolin, BUT, the pangolin was 15 minutes from where we were and there was no guarantee that we would get there in time. “Forward” shrieked our lady, “never mind the time just go”! Off we set at a reasonably fast pace only for the Ranger to stop and tell us that the Ranger had radioed in to say that a Lion was in the process of attacking the Pangolin and it was probably not worth our while to continue. “Forward” came the command from the back and off we set again.
About seven minutes later the Ranger threw his head back and laughed out loud. He had just heard in his ear piece that out of the tree line came three or four elephants that had chased the lion away. I must say I was a little skeptical but on asking him later that evening he told me that elephants don’t like predators in their territory at night and this was no tall story.
However, back to the chase and again “Forward” was heard to ring out into the night. Well, we made it to the Pangolin who was a meter in from the side of the road and had uncurled itself and was lying in the long grass. The Ranger got off the vehicle and had a look. As both himself and the Tracker were armed and no-one else was in sight the Ranger allowed us off the vehicle to inspect the Pangolin at close range. We were shown how to touch the Pangolin and how important it was to be careful as anyone touching the mammal could be badly injured by the serrated scales. I was given the task to feel the Pangolin and the pax would photograph. It was an amazing experience. I gently put my hands around his body and one could feel his beating heart. I guess faster than normal after his ordeal. We all stood in awe of this sighting. For me, I have been to the bush more times than most and have been lucky to see a lot but this was a first and perhaps will remain my only sighting of a Pangolin. It was one of those bush experiences that will stand out as amazing and special. I was very lucky.