The Secret Seven earn their name from the nature of their behaviour. All solitary from a social perspective, being
nocturnal and private creatures, the undercover agent title suits them well. This has made it challenging for
wildlife biologists to study them, and thus many mysteries remain about their nature and habits.

The odd one out.

 Growing to a meter in length, or about 3 feet, for the most part, they go undetected while scurrying around in the undergrowth of the savanna woodlands. Adding once again to the difficulty level to keep track of them. Perhaps one of the more peculiar animals that call Madikwe Game Reserve home, the curious and intelligent pangolin, may have you fooled for a reptile with its beautiful overlapping shield-shaped scales. However, they are the only scaled mammals, closely related to the Carnivora family made up of cats, dogs and bears and giving birth to live young and nursing them for up to 3 months.

What’s in a name? 

Those scales aren’t just for show; they double as protection. The name “pangolin” is believed to be derived from the Malay word for “one who rolls up” — which is precisely what they do when they feel threatened. Forming an armoured defence and creating an impenetrable shield for their soft and vulnerable underbellies. You’ll often find them snoozing the day away in curled in a ball while hulled up in a burrow or a hollow tree trunk.  

Grubs up! 

Emerging in the early evenings to forage throughout the night. Being predominately insectivores, they can consume up to 20 000 termites and ants in a single day. One of the pangolin’s more unusual adaptations to their ant-eating lives is that they can close their ears and nostrils using powerful muscles, which helps protect them from ant attacks. Additionally, they enjoy the occasional munch on invertebrates such as bee larvae and earthworms when they come across them. It’s not hard to see how they play a vital ecological role in Madikwe Safari Lodge’s natural pest control. When they feed, they mix up the topsoil, which benefits the growth and nutrition of the vegetation. This attracts more grazing herbivores, bringing more predators, making them crucial in boosting the entire ecosystem.

An uncertain future. 

Pangolins are critically endangered as they rank as the most trafficked animal globally due to the belief that their scales have medicinal properties. While this is the main reason they are so heavily trafficked, they are also poached as fashion accessories and for their meat, which is considered a delicacy by eastern cultures. Their plight is not dissimilar to the rhino’s, with their scales being comprised of the same material – keratin – which is the same substance as your hair and fingernails. It’s estimated that over 150 000 pangolins are being smuggled out of Africa each year. There has been recent good news in this regard as China has banned pangolin parts for medicinal purposes, so we hope to see these numbers start to decline year on year.

Although they are well-protected from poaching at Madikwe Safari Lodge, pangolins have natural predators,
including lions, leopards and hyenas. However, they don’t often succeed as the pangolin’s defence mechanism of
rolling into a tight ball proves highly effective.

After spending the day searching for the famous Big 5, spend the evenings uncovering the Seven’s secrets at
Madikwe Game reserve. Book your stay today!