The African Pangolin

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 One of the most interesting creatures you may get to spot on a night drive is the pangolin (Manis temminckii), or anteater.


These unusual animals are completely nocturnal and also very rare. The major threats to their existence are habitat loss and poaching, they are believed to be one of the most trafficked animals in the world. Pangolins have a high value as magical charms – their armour is burned to deter lions, or mixed with plant matter to eradicate evil spirits, and they are sacrificed in rainmaking ceremonies.

Their armour is unique to this group of mammals, and is composed entirely of keratin scales. When threatened, the pangolin is able to roll itself into a tight impenetrable ball, hence their name which is derived from the Malay word "pengguling", meaning "something that rolls up".

Another unusual feature of this mammal is its tongue, which is so long that it extends all the way back into the abdominal cavity when not in use. They have no teeth and eat by licking up ants and termites with this long appendage. On the way out, the tongue is lubricated by saliva glands in the chest and can be extended for as much as 40cm, sometimes longer than the animal's body. While foraging, they ingest small stones, which assist in grinding up the ants in their stomachs.

Although their eyesight is poor, pangolins are able to sniff out their prey; digging open their hiding places with their sharp claws before sucking them up. These claws are so elongated that they often get in the way of walking, so the pangolin actually walks on its hind legs, just using the forelegs for balance.

Pangolins are predominantly solitary creatures, spending their time either foraging or sleeping curled up in their burrows. They get together only to mate, usually during the summer or autumn. Unusually, the males mark their location with urine, and then sit back (or rather roll up) and wait for females to find them. On rare occasions, a fight may break out between two suitors, which is settled with a tail-clubbing match between the rivals.

African pangolins typically give birth to only one offspring, after a gestation period of 3 to 4 months, which is soft and white upon arrival. Within a few days the scales harden and darken to resemble that of their parents and they are able to leave the burrow, riding on their mother's tail, after about a month. At three months, the youngsters are weaned and after two years they are on their own.

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Tuesday, 17 October 2017