Pangolins in Africa
Pangolins are among Africa’s most extraordinary safari sightings, appearing more pine cone than animal in their unique armoury of scales. These nocturnal, ant-eating oddities are highly elusive and, today, increasingly rare.
Quick facts about Pangolin
|Scientific name:||Smutsia temminkii||Habitat:||Savannah woodland|
|IUCN status:||Vulnerable||Adult weight:||5–27kg|
Pangolins are the only mammals with scales. These overlapping plates of keratin encase the animal’s upperparts to form a protective armour – impregnable when it rolls into a defensive ball. This species is one of four in Africa and the only one found in the east and south.
It feeds on ants and termites, holing up in a burrow by day and foraging by night. Long claws dig out its prey, which it laps up with a long, sticky tongue and – being toothless – crushes in its muscular stomach.
A pangolin walks largely on its hind-legs, extending its long tail as a counter-balance. The newborn baby rides on the base of its mother tail for its first few weeks.
Length of newborn baby
Length of tongue
Scales as proportion of body weight
Pangolin species worldwide
Africa's top camps for seeing pangolins
Based on 31 reports by our travellers since Jun 2018, the camps below have the best chances of sighting pangolins. Simply follow the key below.
Best chances to see
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Where to see pangolins in Africa
Pangolins are widespread but scarce. Sightings are highly unpredictable and remain a safari holy grail, even for experienced guides. Today, one or two locations in South Africa offer visitors slightly higher chances.
Top tips for viewing pangolins
To see a pangolin, you must head out on a night drive with fingers tightly crossed. Many reserves record occasional sightings, including the Okavango and Central Kalahari (Botswana), Luangwa Valley (Zambia), Hwange (Zimbabwe), Serengeti (Tanzania) and Kruger (South Africa), but, realistically, your chances are slim.
The odds are higher in a handful of reserves in South Africa’s Northern Cape and Karoo, notably Tswalu Kalahari and Samara, where pangolins are more active by day during winter. When approached, a pangolin may roll into a ball rather than retreat. Look, but don’t touch: its scything scales can inflict serious injuries on fingers.
Today all pangolins are of high conservation concern, the lucrative eastern market for their scales making them the world’s most illegally trafficked mammals.
Holiday ideas to see pangolins
Based on our travellers recent observations, these are the holidays which will give you the best chances of pangolin sightings
Our top destinations for pangolins
Click below for detailed information about pangolins in these countries, including our latest sightings data from the camps and lodges there.