Rarest find on Safari?

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan 1 Comment

A question that often pops up on safari, “What is the rarest animal you’ve seen.”  Apart from some rare birds and insects etc, one of the rarest animals would have to be a Pangolin.  Many Guides have been guiding for many, many years and have yet to see one.

In the first 9 years of my guiding career, I’d seen one Pangolin, YES only one!


It is arguably the rarest find you could ask for on Safari, and often the” joking” response when asked by your guide what it is you would like to see on safari.


There is however a place where you could see these rare animals….  A place where you can actually look for them, and possible get a few images…  A place where we are hosting our Rare and Endangered Species safari in 2018…  This place is Tswalu Kalahari.  And in the last 2 years of visiting this stunning property, I’ve been fortunate enough to rack up 29 sightings!!  Jip 29!!!!



At first glance one would almost certainly say that Pangolins are reptiles.  They are almost completely covered in overlapping scales, making up about 20% of their body weight.  These scales are composed of Keratin, same as our hair and nails (and yes Rhino Horn) which is one of the reasons Pangolin are considered to be the most trafficked animal in the world!!  These Artichoke lookalike creatures are actually mammals!

Very little is known about these secretive little creatures (they are busy with exciting research at Tswalu) but here are a few fun facts:

  • They are mainly solitary animals, and the only real interaction is during mating.
  • They dig and live in burrows made up of semispherical chambers.
  • They are mainly nocturnal animals, although during the Winter months (May-August) one could see them moving around during the day.
  • When threatened, they will curl themselves into a ball, with the scales on the tail capable of a cutting action which can inflict serious wounds.
  • Pangolins are capable of emitting noxious acid from the gland near the anus, similar to a skunk, to ward off predators
  • The ground pangolin (the only species we get in southern and eastern Africa) is wholly myrmecophagous which means they only feed on ants and termites.  In fact they are very selective, only eating certain species of ants and termites, rather than feeding on the most abundant.  From studies done at Tswalu, the Pangolins in this particular region seem to focus solely on the Snouted Harvester Termites.




As I mentioned these wonderful little creatures are under huge threat and all 8 species are actually considered to be threatened with extinction.  They are poached mainly for medicinal beliefs as well as the bush meat trade, while habitat loss is another big influence on their decreasing numbers.

Most first time safari travellers will not appreciate the importance and privilege of viewing these creatures in the wild.  It is up to us as guides, conservationists and safari enthusiasts to create awareness on Pangolins, educate our clients/friends and preserve ideal habitats like Tswalu for future generations to enjoy.


What is the rarest species you’ve seen on Safari?


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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