While four subspecies of pangolin can be found in Asia, the best chance you have of spotting them is on safari in Africa, but you'll need a lot of luck. That's due in no small part to their reclusive nature, but also because pangolins are estimated to be the single most poached and trafficked species on the planet. Emphasis on 'estimated', because we still know so little about them, which makes it all the more special if you do come across one, walking on its back feet and using its tail as a balancing pole.
Roll With It
The word pangolin comes from the Malay word 'pengguling' which means 'one who rolls up'. Pangolins roll up into a tight ball so their overlapping armoured scales protect them from predators such as lions, leopards, hyenas and jackals.
The formal (technically: binomial) name for the ground pangolin, the only one of the eight pangolin species found in southern and eastern Africa, is Manis temminckii.
Geography Field Trip
Pangolins practice geophagy - the swallowing of small stones and gravel - while foraging, in order to aid their digestion.
One of the reasons they are so difficult to spot is that pangolins are nocturnal or crepuscular (mostly active at dawn and dusk), though in cooler and drier periods they will sometimes be active during the day, such as during the winter in Tswalu Game Reserve in South Africa.
Where To See Them
While sightings are never guaranteed, you may be lucky enough to spot a pangolin in Tswalu Game Reserve in the Kalahari in South Africa, and we know the best guides and research specialists in Tswalu to ensure you have the highest chance of seeing one. For keen photographers, we can also organise a pangolin photography safari, to ensure you capture the unforgettable moment perfectly.
Matt Shock, Africa Specialist and Former Safari Guide
This rare species is at the top of my safari bucket list. Next time I'm in the Kalahari in winter I'm going to spend all week looking for one!
- 20% - Of their weight is made up by scales
- 15 inches - Average length of a pangolin's tongue
- 70 million - Ants and termites they eat per year