Many people don’t know what a pangolin is…and there are even fewer people who have ever been lucky enough to have seen one in the wild during their lifetime!

They are scale-covered mammals that are most active at night, feeding almost exclusively on certain species of ants and termites and have an endearing habit of carrying their babies around on their tails!

Photo courtesy of the African Pangolin Working Group

Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) is one of four species of pangolins found in Africa and is the second largest (typically 7–12kg).

It is the most widespread of these species and the one that is likely to be seen in northern South Africa (also through most of East Africa, Southern Sudan and Chad).

Its preferred habitat is savanna and woodland, with an average territory of between six and fourteen square kilometres in which to find its main food source of ants and termites. Following a gestation period of 139 days, a single young youngster is born in June or July.

There are eight species of Pangolin worldwide: three in Asia, one in India and four in Africa.

Pangolins are classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of threatened species and their Global population is believed to be decreasing. It is estimated that the total population has decreased by at least twenty percent in the last thirty years.

As of 2013, the estimated total density in the Kruger National Park is one individual every 8.4 square kilometres…but these numbers are hard to verify, given that pangolins are nocturnal and seldom seen.

The reasons for the drastic population decline are various and include poaching (for illegal bush meat trade, illegal use in traditional medicine, illegal exportation to Asian food markets), loss of habitat and encounters with electric game fences.

According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission, more than one million individuals are believed to have been taken from the wild in the past decade.

Distribution of Smutsia temminckii

The name pangolin comes from the Malay word penguling meaning something that rolls up.

Pangolins are considered a delicacy in Asia and are now the most illegally traded mammal in the world.

I think we all know about the poaching and illegal wildlife trade, but the reason for pangolin losses that hit me hardest was when I read of the huge numbers that are killed when pangolins encounter electrified game fences. This is one of the notorious challenges in conservation practice that we have today.

When a pangolin comes into contact with an electrified fence, its immediate reaction is to curl up to defend itself against the initial shock…but, unfortunately, they remain curled around the live wire and are eventually electrocuted until they die – a truly nasty way to go!

The African Pangolin Working Group (which officially launched on 19th February 2015) is looking at various options to improve the design of electric fences to eliminate the killings. They request that you report any sightings and submit photos to them on the following link:

We wish you happy searching… and, of course, would love to hear about any of your sightings – all photos are welcome!

The ANT Blog
Written by Jenny Bell