Ground Pangolin Spotted on PPP Cameras for the First Time in Two Years

The ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), also referred to as the Cape pangolin, scaly anteater or the South Africa pangolin has recently been spotted on the PPP camera grid. The presence of this elusive species was last recorded on our camera traps in 2015. Station 22, the location where the images were captured, has only recorded pangolin images once before since the cameras were deployed in 2011.


The word ‘pangolin’ is derived from the Malay word ‘pengguling’ meaning something that rolls up. The ground pangolin is one of eight armour-plated species belonging to the order Pholidota, which are distinguished from other mammals by their imbricated protective scales, formed from tightly fused hairs. This species is primarily nocturnal and solitary, making the discovery of a pangolin during daylight hours, a rather pleasant and surprising find.

This charismatic species are currently severely under threat due to an increase in local and international trade for bushmeat and traditional medicinal purposes.  They have the unfortunate title of ‘the world’s most trafficked mammal’. Additional threats include traffic accidents, the construction of electrified fences, and  incidental mortalities in gin traps; all of which are injurious to pangolin populations when combined with their long-lived, slow producing life history strategies. However, their typically secret existence suggests their populations may be somewhat underestimated.

Some interesting facts about the ground pangolin:
– Pangolins have no teeth. Instead they possess a long conical tongue to retrieve their prey, which can be extended 10-15cm beyond the lips then retracted into a pouch located in the throat when not in use. Sand ingested with the withdrawal aids mastication of food items.
– They often seek refuge in burrows which were dug by other species, with a preference to use burrows dug by anteaters and spring hares.
– They have thick eyelids, which is suggested to be to prevent their eyes from ant bites.
– Pangolins are surprisingly very capable swimmers.
– This species is insectivorous, more specifically, they have a myrmecophagous feeding behaviour, defined by the consumption of ants and termites. In the case of the pangolin it has only been observed consuming approximately 19 species of formicid ants and termites.
– In one night pangolins can feed up to 90 times, with each execution lasting around a minute.
– The pangolin can roll into an almost impenetrable ball when threatened, wrapping its muscular tail around its unprotected underside leaving only sharp scales exposed.

Although the PPP camera grid in the Soutpansberg is positioned to primarily assess leopard densities, home range, survival and recruitment rates alongside activity patterns of other members of the carnivore guild, the camera traps are providing excellent sightings of other unique species on the mountain, including the ground pangolin!


Volunteering Opportunities Available with PPP

We are once again recruiting for volunteers to help out with our long-term data collection. If you are interested in a predator assistant position, take a look here: and or for primate positions see here:

18197310_10211990497585396_1441967903_nOur last PPP assistant team.

Please also pass along to anyone you think might be interested!

Seeking spots

By Philip Faure

A few months ago, we were contacted by Cheetah Outreach to set up a new camera trapping grid with them in the Platjan area, to establish leopard densities. Farmers in the area have been experiencing high levels of livestock-carnivore conflicts and would appreciate more information regarding predator abundances and densities. At last, after tracking down farmers, landowners, managers, and predator signs, this camera grid is now up and running.

1. Limpokwena LeopardLeopard photographed in Platjan © Limpokwena Nature Reserve

Initially, we were contacted to help conduct a leopard density estimate for the area, but after speaking with some of the local farmers it became clear that there is a big population of spotted hyena as well. At least that’s the general belief. It would be great to see what the actual density estimates for this area are. One thing is for certain, there are definitely a lot of leopard and hyena signs in the area. Across most of the area we placed cameras there were numerous tracks or scat found of both leopards and hyenas. Which makes this study all the more exciting from a researcher’s point of view.

3. Spottie JuvinilesSpotted hyena juveniles from Limpokwena Nature Reserve, Platjan © Limpokwena Nature Reserve

Leopard and spotted hyena are believed to cause the most damages  to livestock farmers. Many farmers use Anatolian livestock guarding dogs with their herds in order to minimize depredation by predators. Deon Cilliers from Cheetah Outreach has placed several dogs in the area to help farmers and predators live together. Likewise, Rox Brummer from Green Dogs Conservation has also worked a lot in the area to help mitigate human-carnivore conflict. Together, they have made a significant impact and their Anatolians have proven successful.

We have now placed 68 cameras over a 240 km2 area. Being situated right next to the Limpopo River, which divides South Africa and Botswana, Platjan has some amazing wildlife. Elephants visit from across the Botswana border, hippos float in murky waters, you see an occasional log drifting down the river only to realize it’s actually a crocodile, and dassies hold the fort on their little rocky outcrops. There are many different carnivores in the area, including occasional visits from some of the last free ranging South African lions, African wild dogs, cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, aardwolf, civets, genets, African wildcats, caracal, and servals. Truely a diverse landscape and as wild as can be on privately owned land.

7. Limpopo RiverThe Limpopo River forms the border between South Africa and Botswana.

What an amazing place this is to do camera trapping. Special thanks go out to Annie Casey (PPP Predator Assistant and Data Scientist) for helping set up the grid. Also, many thanks to Riley and Syanne from the Limpokwena Nature Reserve for offering us the most comfortable accommodation with great chats and laughter around the fire.

8. Mogalakwena RiverMogalakwena River, Limpokwena Nature Reserve.

Watch this space for project updates!

Nature, red in tooth and claw

On the 15th of July, Zina and Allison, two of our primate researchers, heard a loud commotion from the baboon troop they were following. Upon investigation, they found that one of the collared baboon females, Perry, was in a terrible state. Unsure of whether she was attacked by another baboon, or by something else, they called it in on the radio. Andy and Philip, our Primate Research Coordinator and Community Engagement Officer, went to investigate.

“Upon arrival we found Perry lying on her side and occasionally trying to get up. She had sustained major injuries to her head and her arm seemed to be broken”, said Philip. “We couldn’t see any leopard tracks or any other signs of a predator and kept monitoring her to see if she would recover. Close by a bushbuck was alarm calling in terror. Clearly, something was scaring it.” That evening Andy and Philip put up some camera traps to see if we could capture what was going on, and then left to let nature take its course.

The next morning, Perry was found a few meters from where she had been lying the previous morning, and still alive! There were no images of predators on the cameras. Were Perry’s injuries caused by another baboon in a fight? Or was it a leopard? We still did not know. She looked to be in a better state than she was the previous day, so we left the cameras to further monitor what happened. “Baboons are tough animals and I’ve seen a few that have bounced back from near death and horrible injuries”, said Andy who has worked with baboons for more than 3 years.

Philip and Andy returned the following morning at 4 am to remove her GPS collar, since this could have aided her chances of survival. However, she was completely missing… “We started tracking her with the VHF and kept getting a clear signal, but then it would disappear as soon as we got close. So we started again and the same thing happened, time and time again. We had our suspicions, but weren’t sure what was wrong with the collar”, said Andy. Eventually, we found baboon hair scattered over the grass (as leopards usually do with their kills), covered in fresh blood and saliva. “At that point we were sure it was a leopard, and it was close!”, said Philip. Common sense then took over, as it’s not the best idea to stumble around in the dark following a leopard and its kill.

When the camera images were checked back in the office, Philip realised they had missed Dexter, a big male leopard, by just 17 minutes! Even so, they got within 30 meters of him and his kill. The intermittent VHF signal was probably Dexter dragging his breakfast away from those pesky researchers! Later that day we returned to retrieve the GPS collar that Perry had been wearing. Only a few small signs of her remained. We found her skull, which had two big puncture holes where Dexter’s teeth had gone straight through. The collar had been damaged too. It really was a ferocious attack and astonishing that Perry lasted as long as she did. Baboons really are amazingly resilient animals, but some foes are just too big to overcome.


Canisius College Visit

From 23rd May to 10th June Dr. Sue Margulis and a group of her students from Canisius College in the United States joined Lajuma for their annual field course. Their programme involved a variety of animal behaviour, ecology and conservation related activities, and PPP were able to get involved with the group on some of these activities.

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The Canisius College group

On 7th June, Philip took the Canisius group to see one of the Anatolian livestock guarding dogs (LGDs), Bindi, on a farm here in the mountains. They left really early in order to reach the farm before the cattle went out to graze. In the field Philip had the opportunity to teach the group about how these dogs work and what they do. However, Bindi was not too well when the group arrived, so instead of going out with the cattle she made a visit to the vet. It turns out that Bindi was bitten by a tick which resulted in tick bite fever, but after some medicine all is well and Bindi is as strong as before.

After the Anatolian LGD visit, Philip took the group to one of the local schools where they conducted some environmental education work with the local learners. They played games with the children to get them excited, after which Philip taught them about the local biodiversity found in the mountains and the impacts of snaring on this wildlife, as well as other conservation issues. As always the kids were very receptive and had loads of questions. Philip says that one of the best questions he has been asked so far is “What sound does a Liger make?”, does anyone know?


Canisius College visiting local school children

PPP also took the group on a hike to some of our camera trap stations, and the group helped to tag and sort many of our images. They also helped Philip to tag many of his images from his new camera grid down in the Mara area. On the last night Sue and her students prepared a feast for everyone on Lajuma to say thank you!

African Leadership Academy Students Visit the Primate and Predator Project

On the 6th June the African Leadership Academy (ALA) visited the Primate and Predator Project (PPP) to learn more about our research, conservation and community outreach efforts. Three of the top learners from the ALA accompanied by their mentor and a Sumbandila Scholarship Trust representative came to visit. Philip, our Community Engagement Officer, took them around Lajuma to show them the beauty of the mountains, while also using this opportunity as an outdoor classroom.

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The ALA team. Photo by Sarah Robbertze.

The ALA and Sumbandila Scholarship Trust share visions of the hope to select extraordinary children from backgrounds of extreme poverty and offer them a world-class education alongside a strong mentor programme. Both organisations aim to develop young leaders and entrepreneurs who will work together to address Africa’s challenges, achieve extraordinary social impact, and one day give back to the countries and communities they came from.

Unfortunately, they were only here for a single day but they had a whole day full of activities. They got to learn about the Anatolian research project which we are starting, the research we do on leopard populations in the mountains and about general carnivore ecology and ecosystem services. They also had a chance to go on an eco hike to one of our beautiful waterfalls here on Lajuma where they were taught about sustainable energy and hydro-electricity.


Photo of the waterfall taken by Sarah Robbertze.

We hope to see these young souls grow up to become the future conservation minded leaders of our continent and abroad!

The Samangos Weekend Away

Last week the samangos went on a weekend jolly up to Diepkloof. This is the first time we have recorded our habituated samangos in Diepkloof since 2014, raising some interesting questions.

Of the two samango groups we follow, House group are notoriously predictable and rarely stray far from their sleep site at the Barn. It was quite a surprise then, when they decided to head towards Diepkloof last Friday, a good 2 km away from their usual hang-out.

Being primarily arboreal, samango monkeys are usually confined to tall, continuous forest habitats, although they are also able to utilise shorter, patchier forest fragments linking the taller forests. The path to Diepkloof therefore poses a potential predation risk, as the small forest corridor can be as short as 5 m tall and less than 100 m wide. As a result, the 60-70 samangos within the group got to know each other a little better, as they were crammed into this small fragmented corridor.

These risks were further amplified when the group made their way through the “patches” on Saturday (so called for its small and patchily distributed bush clumps). A habitat we typically see our baboons travel through, the samangos looked slightly out of place running from patch to patch and across open, exposed grasslands. A particular highlight was watching a group of 60+ samango monkeys making the nervy dash across an open rocky patch to make it to the taller forest only about 20 m away!


Habitat such as the “patches” is very open, an unusual habitat for samangos to be in.

So why then would samango monkeys not only travel so far away from their typical home range, but also expose themselves to the increased risk of predation resulting from traveling through short, patchy forests?

Well… with breeding season well underway, both our groups now include multiple males. Typically during the breeding season, a male may come into the group and take with him a small subgroup of females who have taken a particular fancy to him. Perhaps the whole group has finally had enough of the resident male, Skeletor, and decided to follow a bachelor male up to his usual stomping ground up in Diepkloof.

Perhaps, a more likely suggestion, concerns food availability. Samangos usually think with their bellies, and as we’re approaching the depth of the South African winter (which still boasts days reaching the mid thirties mind…), food is starting to become scarce. If times are hard finding food within the normal home range, it may well be worth the group packing up for the weekend in search of food a little further for home.

Or, perhaps the samangos just fancied getting away for the weekend. Who doesn’t enjoy a little winter break? A couple of PhD students at the PPP are currently interested in how food availability and primate ranging, so watch this space for some more concrete answers!

Written by Ed Parker.


Samango monkeys in Diepkloof, taking a break away from their usual home range!