THEY have been called the most hunted animal in the world, so perhaps you can’t blame this pangolin for hiding its face.
Temminck’s ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) is found across a vast swathe of eastern and southern Africa. It has no teeth – pangolins are Africa’s ecological answer to anteaters, tearing into termite mounds and pulling out insects with their sticky tongues, as this one is doing in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Its tools are tough claws that it curls under its arms when it walks.
The mammal is secretive and nocturnal. While it can rely on its formidable scales for protection against hyenas and leopards – its traditional hunters – it doesn’t fare well against people after it for bushmeat or bogus medicine. The extraordinary armour is made of the same stuff as hair; burning the scales is thought in parts of East Africa to repel lions, or they can be used in “medicine”. In some areas, it is considered good luck to present a pangolin to the local chief, village shaman or rainmaker. None of this supposed luck rubs off on the animal, of course.
The IUCN Red List of endangered species classifies Temminck’s ground pangolin as vulnerable to extinction, and projects a decline in population size of between 30 and 40 per cent in the next few decades.
This article appeared in print under the headline “Peekaboo pangolin”
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