Safari Camp Stories: A Double Pangolin Sighting

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

In the first of our safari camp stories from Garonga, I’m going to tell you about the rarest of the rare, the world’s most trafficked animal and the veritable golden snitch of the safari-quidditch world (more Harry Potter lingo to follow). That’s right, we’re talking about the pangolin.

Now as big denouements go, I appreciate that this might have just fallen a little flat, almost like Harry Potter’s friend Neville Longbottom when his remembral turns red but still leaves him firmly in the dark as to what it is he has forgotten. Similarly, the pangolin, despite its heady status as the world’s most trafficked animal, remains a fairly unknown creature to most of us.

What is a pangolin? There are eight species of pangolin in the world, with four being found on the African continent, and they occupy their own taxonomic order, Pholidata. Also known as scaly anteaters, they are descended from carnivores and feed exclusively on a diet of ants and termites. They have no teeth, incredibly long sticky tongues, and ears that seal up to prevent those creepy crawlies getting inside!

The name pangolin derives from the animal’s Malaysian name ‘peng-goling’ which means ‘the roller’. Pangolins are covered in tough keratin scales which act very much like armour. If they encounter any danger their first reaction is to roll into a ball with their scales creating impenetrable exterior sphere which they maintain until the danger has passed.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

Are there pangolins at Garonga? There is only species of pangolin in South Africa, the Temminck’s ground pangolin or Smutsia temmickii if you want to get technical about it. Garonga has a pretty good record as far as pangolins go. We are fortunate to confirm that there are a minimum of three resident pangolins on the property. So you can imagine my excitement when I started working at Garonga in June 2018 and went twice daily on games drives, being wholly convinced that I was on my way to see my first ever pangolin.

At the start of each drive my tracker and I would confidently announce that we were on our way to find ourselves a pangolin; although I have a sneaking suspicion some of the tracking team might have been humouring me! Yet slowly the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and, sadly, we had yet to see this elusive animal. This is not necessarily surprising as pangolins are the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the guide’s rainbow. They are infamously tricky to find; there are guides who have spent 20 years working in the bush having never seen this shy and retiring creature.

So when Bongi and I were chasing around after a leopard at the beginning of last October and came across fresh pangolin tracks the excitement was palpable. Well, at least it was for Bongi and I, as the guests’ expressions seemed to suggest they were hoping that after a 10-minute hike through the bush for something a little more showy than a fairly nondescript squashed circle in the red African dust.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Bongi is a member of our tracking team known affectionately as ‘The Man with the Magical Eyes’. So, on another afternoon drive in late October, when Bongi called out “What’s that?”, I chuckled and pulled out my binoculars; if Bongi couldn’t identify whatever it was without them, I certainly wasn’t going to be able to. I asked Bongi where we were looking and started a casual scan of the area. On the tracker seat ahead of me, Bongi began to squint and muttered ‘pangolin’. At that point, I was doing a passable impression of a spinning top – binos firmly glued to my face, calling out “Where are we looking?!”. Then my scan took me to my right where I saw it, or more accurately them. That’s right folks, our first pangolin sighting was also our second pangolin sighting. Right before our eyes was a female carrying her youngster on her back.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

Chaos followed! The guests on my vehicle were French and had never heard of pangolins and in the excitement they got a mixed babble of French and English explanations about how incredible and rare it is to see a pangolin. Bongi and I were close to tears. We followed the female with her youngster in the vehicle for a short way and then got out on foot for a closer look. The adult pangolin headed towards a thick clump of grass, tipped her baby off her back and gave us the enormous privilege of sitting with her and her offspring, taking in their presence and sharing in their story. I then got to make, hands down, the coolest radio call in my career “Stations, Sophie is on lock with a mother and baby pangolin – visual 5 out 5”. The radio nearly exploded and there wasn’t a mobile vehicle on the reserve that night that didn’t come to Garonga to see these mythical beasts.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

Following an inspection of the scales on the female, we noticed a damaged scale and realised, with mounting excitement, that this was the self-same individual that Sam, another guide at Garonga, had seen the previous year who had been in the perilous situation of being curled tightly in a ball clasped between the claws of one of the younger, more curious, Garonga pride male lions! These animals really are amazingly tough as not only had she emerged relatively unscathed from the encounter she found herself a mate and successfully given birth to a healthy baby. The morning after our encounter there was a suspicious number of vehicles circling that part of the reserve but of mother and baby there was no sign – they had vanished.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Samantha Hewitt

Seeing a mother pangolin with a baby in the wild was such an amazing privilege especially bearing in mind how much pressure is being exerted on this species. It is estimated that more than 1 million pangolins have been taken from the wild in the last decade alone. It took until the week before Christmas until we found their tracks again.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

Why are they so endangered? Regrettably, pangolins are highly desired for medicinal use both in Africa and internationally. Across Africa, traditional healers use pangolin parts in their treatments, tending to focus on using scales and bones, whilst the meat is used for preparing charms for chiefs or tribal leaders. With 80% of Africa’s population relying on traditional medicine either due to not having access to modern medicine or not trusting it, there is a significant impact on the pangolin population.

Pangolins are a firm favourite in Asian traditional medicine, to such an extent that the two species of pangolin native to China and Vietnam are now  listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In Vietnam, pangolins are considered a great delicacy and are smuggled alive into restaurants and then killed at the table to prove their freshness before being cooked and eaten.

Unfortunately, despite the impact on their native pangolin populations, the demand both for the traditional Chinese remedies, and for the pangolin as a delicacy continues. Much of this demand is being met by poaching and smuggling of African pangolin species. Professor Ray Jansen, an ecologist at Tswane University, says that ground pangolins are currently being poached at 10 times the rate of rhinos. Pangolins are very tricky to raise and keep in captivity as they require constant care and, according to some sources, hours of walks daily are necessary just to trigger their digestive juices. This means that to meet the demands described above, the only source of pangolins is from the wild.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Samantha Hewitt

Pangolin scales are made of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up our hair and fingernails and, of course, the heavily poached rhino horn. Science has been thoroughly unable to demonstrate any medicinal value in keratin, and certainly not for the myriad treatments for which pangolin parts are prescribed. Studies have, in fact, shown that over-consumption of pangolin scales can lead to liver problems. It is unclear whether the same is true for over-consumption of human fingernails – I suspect it’s been difficult to find willing participants for the latter study!

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

What can we do to help? First, we must spread the word. People can’t save an animal they’ve never heard of so education is key to the future of the pangolin. The sooner we can win communities over to modern medicine alternatives the sooner we will have a chance at stopping pangolin poaching. Secondly, there are organisations that are already doing great work to help pangolins and, as is often the case with conservation, funding can be scarce and they must turn to the public for support.

Rhino Revolution is a great local charity that opened a pangolin rehabilitation centre in August last year, which was in addition to the existing rhino rescue rehabilitation centre. Since opening the charity, they have received  a stunning nine pangolins that were confiscated from poachers, three of whom have already been successfully released into the wild. Three of the pangolins were very sick when they reached the team and continue to need round-the-clock care. The work done by Rhino Revolution is vital if we are to see the survival of these incredible animals.

If you wish to support their work, then please click here to donate from South Africa or anywhere globally – aside from the UK or the Middle East – and here to donate from the UK or the Middle East.

safari camp stories, garonga, South African safari, pangolin, endangered species, pangolin poaching
© Sophie Barrett

They say old habits die hard and I still find myself leaving the lodge on game drives convinced that this is the drive where we spy a pangolin again. I’m crossing fingers that I’ll have another tale to add to our safari camp stories series.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Team – WildWeb

This is the last of the blog series “Behind the Scenes” that has featured the 12 teams working collectively ensure Garonga’s continued success. This is the hard work that guests often don’t know about but get to experience the results first-hand at the safari camp. 

WildWeb, owned and managed by Paul Changuion, is a Web Design and Digital Marketing Agency based in Durban, South Africa. They have represented Garonga Safari Camp for many years now, and are both a highly experienced team and personable group of people to work with.

In 2000, Paul turned his love for the African bushveld into his dream company – WildWeb. Paul has vast experience in online marketing of safari operations in Southern and Eastern Africa.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

We work with all the teams at WildWeb, as they manage and maintain all our web-based platforms and online content. They are responsible for our website design and maintenance, digital marketing – including blogs and social media – and generally keeping together any web-based information such as on TripAdvisor and online itinerary builder, WETU.

Website Design & Development Team

Jono Bouwmeester: Jono brings both technical know-how and design flare to his position as Head of the Design and Development Team at WildWeb.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

David Reynolds: Also a long-standing member of the WildWeb family, David is the SEO guru of the company and supports web design and maintenance by installing all updates to keep Garonga’s website up-to-date.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Shannon Govender: Shannon is a designer and front-end developer at WildWeb. With over 10 years experience in the advertising and media industry, he is an expert in graphic and web design, printing, animation and game development.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Mystic Mendes: As a Level 5 Programmer, web development runs deep in Mystic’s veins. So when he’s not at WildWeb, he’s either dreaming about programming or updating himself on what’s new in this field.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Digital Marketing Team

Kelly Robertson: A travel enthusiast of note with a deep love for all things content, Kelly heads up the Digital Marketing Team from her base in Johannesburg.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Anna da Graça: Anna has a strong background in public relations, events management and strategic marketing development. Having been born and raised in England, Anna brings unique insight to inform Garonga’s online presence.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Nelli Rose-Innes: The master of paid advertising at WildWeb, Nelli looks after Garonga’s online presence, particularly making sure more people find out about us. She keeps abreast of all online information trends so that we stay ahead of the curb.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Claire Birtwhistle: Claire is a professional photographer with a penchant for safari photography – check out our galleries to see some of Claire’s work. Along with her creative talents, she is also well-versed in strategic marketing across digital platforms.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Elrika Geyser: With a Public Relations Degree and marketing experience under her belt, Elrika is equipped to create authentic content and managing winning social media campaigns.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Megan Lewis: A complete word-nerd with a background in communications, public relations and marketing, Megan is in her element when exploring different countries or writing about all things travel.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Digital Direct Team

Claire Long: Claire has extensive experience in the travel industry and has also spent time living abroad, which she brings to her position as Reservations Specialist for Garonga at WildWeb.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Jennifer Harmse: With a Diploma in International Tourism, Jennifer loves helping people realise their travel dreams as a Reservations Specialist. Along with Claire, you’ll probably chat to Jennifer at some point when booking at Garonga.

Garonga, Meet the Team, WildWeb, Digital Marketing, Web Development, South African Safari, Big 5 Safari

Garonga’s authentic online presence is aligned perfectly to our offline safari experience thanks to WildWeb.

Introducing the All New Star Bath and Yoga Deck

Just when you didn’t think your safari could get any more relaxing, we go and prove you wrong!

Here at Garonga we pride ourselves on our motto of being a ‘Safari for the Soul’. While the Big Five game drives and encounters with wildlife is a huge drawcard, it’s only half the safari experience at Garonga. Equally important is slowing down the pace of life, nurturing yourself, and ‘resetting your system’, so to speak.

That’s, of course, why we offer the Bush Bath and Sleep Out Deck, which are complimented by luxurious accommodation and nourishing, hearty food. And it doesn’t stop there. A stay at Garonga isn’t complete without a visit to the Massage Sala, and not to worry, very few people come out without a bad case of ‘pillow face’.

We’ve upped the relaxation ante with two new features added to the revamped existing luxury facilities:

Star Bath

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, Big 5 Safari, South African Safari, Luxury Safari Camp, Luxury Honeymoon Lodge, Bush Bath, Star Bath, Open Air Bath, Yoga Deck, Massage Sala, Luxury Safari Experience
Introducing the Star Bath

It’s time to get starry-eyed! We bring you the dreamy Star Bath – a whole new alfresco bathing experience. We’ve added a special touch to the original Bush Bath experience. Now you can get lost in the view of a dazzling African night sky as well as our very own galaxy of twinkling stars, all in complete privacy. Soak away your troubles, let go and look back on the sightings and experiences of the day with a glass of wine in hand. It sounds like bliss because it is!

Yoga Deck

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, Big 5 Safari, South African Safari, Luxury Safari Camp, Luxury Honeymoon Lodge, Bush Bath, Star Bath, Open Air Bath, Yoga Deck, Massage Sala, Luxury Safari Experience
Introducing the Yoga Deck

Those already familiar with the practice of mindfulness and meditation, or those that just love a good stretch or daytime nap, will be excited to see our new Yoga Deck. An enclosed tented structure designed to allow air to flow freely, perfectly frames an exquisite view of the valley. You can step onto the mat and practice in privacy surrounded by only the peaceful sounds of the surrounding bush. If you’re lucky you might even get some of the local wildlife passing by!

Bush Bath

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, Big 5 Safari, South African Safari, Luxury Safari Camp, Luxury Honeymoon Lodge, Bush Bath, Star Bath, Open Air Bath, Yoga Deck, Massage Sala, Luxury Safari Experience
Welcome back to a revamped Bush Bath

Not forgetting our existing Bush Bath, which continues to be a much-loved feature at Garonga. It received the full luxury treatment and make-over with a brand-new freestanding bath.

If you’re looking to leave your troubles behind, completely unwind and indulge your senses, then we can certainly help you by offering the ultimate in soulful spa/safari experience.

Namaste

Meet the Team: Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve

The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (GMPGR), together with the Pidwa Wilderness Reserve forms the Greater Makalali Nature Reserve (GMNR), is a 22,000-ha game reserve situated outside Gravelotte in the Limpopo Province. The reserve has seven owners who have retained ownership of their individual properties but have removed fences to create a conservancy allowing game to traverse the entire extent of the reserve.

The reserve is home to the Big 5, with previously eradicated species including lion, elephant, rhino, hippo, buffalo, cheetah and hyena being reintroduced. Leopard, brown hyena and the smaller mammal species as well as the endangered ground hornbill and the many threatened and endangered vulture and raptor species are present on the reserve.

Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve Team

To run such a large reserve, we need a very special and motivated team. From mending fences to ensuring legal and environmental compliance and liaising with the Anti-Poaching Teams, the team has their work cut out for them – nothing is too small!

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
Josias Mohuba (Senior Fence Patroller), Richard Sachse (Rhino Monitor), Matthew Mohuba (Fence Patroller), James Maila (Maintenance), Lydia Raganya (B2W Environmental Monitor), Peter Malatji (Maintenance), Annickiy Mafogo (B2W Environmental Monitor), Clement Mahlo (Environmental Monitor), Samuel Komane (Environmental Monitor), Lorraine Ngomane (Housekeeper), Carol Cerney (Assistant Rhino Monitor), Emmanuel Mahlo (Gate Guard), Yvette Panos (Financial Administrator and B2W Coordinator) and Rob Panos (Reserve Warden)
Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
Jabulane Khoza (Main Gate Security Guard)
Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
Emmanuel Mahlo (Garonga Gate Security Guard)

Protected Area Based Environmental Monitors

The EM programme was started by the South Africa’s National Department of Environmental Affairs in response to the challenges of high levels of unemployment adjacent to conservation areas, coupled with increases in the illegal wildlife trade. The programme aims to grow conservation capacity within South African National Parks’ (SANParks) protected areas including provincial and private reserves.

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
Richard Sachse and Carol Cerney (Rhino Monitors) and Rob Panos (Reserve Warden)

Four Environmental Monitors are deployed on the GMPGR through an integrated plan to assist with conservation support, including various projects and activities to maintain sustainability within the GMPGR.

Back to the Wild Programme

The Back to the Wild (B2W) Programme seeks the promotion and conservation of wildlife, fauna and flora, and the natural environment, including the ecosystem in and on the reserve land, as well as establishing a formal release facility for compromised and rehabilitated indigenous wildlife on the reserve land.

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
Back to Wild re-wilding enclosure

Over the years, the GMPGR has facilitated the release of several species from various centres on a small-scale. The capacity for release within GMNR has been greatly increased through the construction of six suitable re-wilding enclosures within a release facility, with the funding assistance of the Humane Society International. A slow-release process is carefully managed to ensure previously compromised and rehabilitated animals are successfully released back to the wild.

The B2W Programme is managed by Yvette Panos, who works together with Audrey Delsink Kettles, who is the Executive Director of Humane Society International: Africa, and Nicci Wright, the Executive Director of African Pangolin Working Group and an internationally qualified wildlife rehabilitation specialist.

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
Lydia Raganya and Annickiy Mafogo (B2W Environmental Monitors)

Lydia Raganya and Annickiy Mafogo are the Environmental Monitors stationed at the B2W facility, providing the necessary dedication and care of the wildlife to ensure the success of this programme.

Anti-Poaching Unit: K9 Conservation

The K9 Conservation Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) has provided logistical backup and support to the GMNR since 2014, through the deployment of elite, highly trained and specialized working-dog units. The APU is based on the reserve permanently, patrolling both in vehicles and on foot. The field rangers and dogs are carefully selected and paired to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
K9 APU Senior Staff: Prince (Senior Field Ranger), Peter Wearne (Unit Manager), Justice (Assistant Sergeant) and Nhlanhla (Sergeant)

The Belgian Malinois, originally bred for herding purposes, have the perfect temperament, intelligence, dedication, agility and diligence to be anti-poaching K9 soldiers on the frontlines of anti-poaching efforts.

Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Meet the Team, Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve, Greater Makalali Nature Reserve, South Africa Safari, Big 5 Safari
Peter Wearne (Unit Manager of the Makalali Unit)

K9 Conservation’s primary function is to aid and assist the GMNR to counteract illegal hunting and wildlife trade by poachers and poaching syndicates. The exceptionally dedicated APU on the GMNR is led by Peter Wearne, who has been based at the GMPGR since October 2014.

For further information on GMPGR and GMNR or to support Back to the Wild, please contact us.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Management Team

The Management Team is the backbone of operations at Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga. They ensure everything runs smoothly for the guests both at the front of house and behind the scenes. More importantly, they are the leaders that guide, support and mentor the other teams of staff at Garonga.

Garonga, Little Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Behind the scenes, Management Team, Meet the Team
Reyneke – Operations Manager at Garonga

Reyneke is the Operations Manager and has been at Garonga now for almost three years. As a very diligent and thorough person, he is tasked with all general operations of lodge as well as  overseeing the Safari Department, which is run by Jaffeth. Reyneke arranges external training courses to ensure consistently high standards at both properties that meet the expectations of every guests that walks through our doors.

Garonga, Little Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Behind the scenes, Management Team, Meet the Team
Riki – Administration Manager at Garonga

Riki is the Administration Manager, who has worked at Garonga for three years, along with her husband Reyneke. She has taken on this difficult and intense role with great gusto and quiet determination. From accounts management to stock control and month-end reporting, Riki is incredibly capable and efficient.

Charlotte, who joined  Garonga two years ago as the Manager, is currently on six months maternity leave and will return in the beginning of 2019.

Garonga, Little Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, Behind the scenes, Management Team, Meet the Team
Lize – Acting Manager at Garonga

Lize has stepped comfortably into Charlotte’s shoes for the six months she is on maternity leave. Whilst she is new to managing, she has slotted well into the position because she is thorough, diligent and confident. In January 2019, Lize will begin her four-year Tourism Degree.

Robert and Steffen are the Manager at Little Garonga and Maintenance Manager, respectively. Check out the blogs on the Little Garonga Staff Team and the Maintenance Team to find out more about Robert and Steffen.