Looking like a cross between an anteater and an armour-plated truck, the pangolin is one of Africa’s most secretive but fascinating creatures.

One of the world's weirdest animals, the ground pangolin - also, and more descriptively, known as the scaly pangolin - ranks up there with the aardvark at the top of the list of what night be termed 'oddball creatures seen so seldom in the wild that you wonder whether they're not just making them up'.

I've been travelling in Africa for more than 25 years, and must have spent 500 nights or more on safari, without ever setting eyes on an aardvark. But about a year ago, in Tanzania's remote Katavi National Park, we pulled onto the airstrip after a rainstorm, and I noticed an unfamiliar little armour-plated creature walking purposefully on the short grass.

My first - and quite possibly last - pangolin. Contrary to expectations, it wasn't the skittish in the slightest, but seemed quite relaxed as we walked up to with a couple of metres of it. Nor did it roll itself into a ball, as it often does when threatened by predators. Quite why this notoriously secretive nocturnal creature was wandering about in broad daylight is anybody's guess, ours being that perhaps its burrow had flooded in the rain.

The rarity of this special sighting was underscored that evening when a very jealous manager showed us a recent book stating that 'the presence of the ground pangolin in Katavi has not been verified'. Well, it has now - and we have the pictures to prove it!

By Philip Briggs
South Africa ZA

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

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