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Phinda, pangolins and a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Barbara and Andrew McGregor’s recent visit to Phinda private game reserve was a Bucket Wheel® item for them. With so many interesting and varied sightings, it was an experience that didn’t disappoint.

Phinda is in northern KZN, situated between the Mkuze Game Reserve and the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park. Covering an area of 170 km², it features seven distinct ecosystems, resulting in an unusually rich diversity of fauna and flora, including many species endemic to the Phinda area.

Having not been to Phinda before, endemic sightings were “lifers” for the McGregors. They included a “flutter” of Black Swordtail butterflies having fun in a pool of muddy water on the road, Tonga red squirrel, Bell’s hinged tortoise, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Pink-throated Twinspot, along with several trees and bushes.

Other highlights included a close encounter with a herd of elephants (in a vehicle that refused to start) and excellent cheetah, rhino, and leopard sightings. However, all these were outdone by a fabulous encounter with a pangolin.

Pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, are unique mammals found in various parts of the world, including South Africa. They are known for their distinctive scales, which cover their entire body. These scales are made of keratin, the same material that makes up human hair and nails. They are known for their keen sense of smell, which they use to locate ants and termites, their primary food source.

They are nocturnal creatures and spend most of the day in burrows or termite mounds. This sighting in broad daylight was, therefore, extra special. They watched it for over an hour as it moved along the side of the road, seemingly oblivious to their presence and very engaged in sniffing out dinner.

There are two species of pangolin in South Africa, both of which are endangered due mainly to illegal hunting for their meat and scales. Pangolin scales are highly valued in traditional medicine and are used to treat a variety of ailments. Their meat is also considered a delicacy. Pangolins are a sought-after commodity on the illicit wildlife market.

Barbara and Andrew’s visit to Phinda was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They were able to see some of the most elusive and endangered species in their natural habitat, all while enjoying the luxury and beauty of the reserve. They left with a reinforced appreciation of the incredible biodiversity of South Africa’s natural heritage.

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