Lapalala Wilderness Reserve’s “Wilderness Forever’ Conservation Legacy

Introduction – Highly acclaimed in both conservation and environment education circles, Lapalala Wilderness is one of the largest private Big 5 game reserves in South Africa. Situated within the Waterberg Region of the Limpopo province, and spanning some 48 000 hectares, it plays a vital role in the protection critical biodiversity habitats found in this unique and picturesque landscape.  It is managed by the Lapalala Wilderness Foundation NPC whose vision is to leave and exceptional conservation legacy…Wilderness Forever!

With the intention to keep local and international media as well as any passionate environmental enthusiast updated on the many different projects this renowned private game reserve is associated with, we will share monthly insights into a specific project that emphasizes the five main components of this sustainable low volume, high value wildlife tourism model. 

African folklore refers to the pangolin as the wise old man of the bush, believing sightings bring good luck & rain! Right now, the pangolin needs all the luck to survive!

The enigmatic pangolin has been around for 85 million years, but today it is one of the most illegally trafficked mammals on earth (even more than rhino!)  Their populations are decreasing, and their conservation status range from vulnerable (Temminck’s and black-bellied pangolin) to critically endangered (Chinese, Sunda and Philippine pangolins) on the IUCN Red List. They are poached for their scales, which are believed to have medicinal values. Just like rhino horn, pangolin scales are made of keratin with absolutely no medicinal or magical properties.

Added to this, sadly, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, and the body parts are sometimes used for spiritual protection and financial rituals. All in all, such a demand only further adds to the decline in their numbers.

Pangolins belong to the order Pholidota, derived from the Greek word meaning “covered in scales”. While it looks like a scaly reptile, it is infact a mammal. Of a total of eight species, four are found in Africa, with another four in Asia.  The Temminck’s pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) is widespread, found in the northern parts of South Africa, up to most of East Africa and into southern Sudan and Chad.

The Role of Lapalala Wilderness Nature Reserve

Lapalala Wilderness is working with the African Pangolin Working Group (APWG) to assist with the soft release of rehabilitated Temminck’s pangolin (Smutsia temminckii). Poached and captive pangolins are often kept in deplorable conditions and are incredibly stressed and in poor health upon arrival at veterinary hospitals authorized to treat them.  After going through a process of rehabilitation and once they have veterinary approval, the pangolins are released into a safe and secure wildlife reserve where they can roam freely, whilst still being closely monitored for up to a year. Lapalala is one of these havens where the pangolins get a second chance to be free and thrive.

Veterinary & Research Manager of Lapalala Wilderness, Annemieke Muller, explains, “Animals often struggle to adapt to a new environment.  Our dedicated Lapalala team, guided by APWG-trained monitors, records movement, weight changes, and feeding success before permanent release takes place.  We are privileged to experience these fascinating creatures, each one a unique individual character.  One pangolin may be shy and calm, while another is adventurous and outgoing.  They all absolutely love ants, and it’s a treat to see them hunting.  Every stump and hole is thoroughly investigated, and the digging becomes vigorous when they hit the jackpot!  There is still much to learn about this species, and it is a special opportunity to observe them so closely, thereby adding insight into pangolin behavior.”

Temminck’s Pangolin Specifications

  • B. (All these are specific to only Temmincks)
  • The average weight of a mature adult can be as much as 16-17 kilograms.
  • Although capable of digging their own burrows, pangolins prefer abandoned burrows of porcupines, aardvarks or warthogs.
  • From head to tail, the average length is 1.2 meters.
  • The actual tongue of an adult pangolin is about 30cms long.
  • The tail is very strong and is used for balance and self-defense.
  • This species is predominantly nocturnal and entirely terrestrial preferring savannah and woodland habitats. They are even found in arid areas such as the Northern Cape, Kalahari, Namibia and Botswana.
  • Pangolins are solitary creatures, with the pups becoming independent after about five to six months.


Fun Facts

  • Babies are called Pango-pups. No-one really knows for certain how long the gestation period is for a Temminck’s pangolin, but it is believed to be four – seven months. Pups are kept safe deep in the burrow until strong enough to ride on the mother’s tail at around 8 weeks old.
  • Their tongue is half the length of their combined head and body length to be able to access deep into burrows and termites’ nests.
  • Temminck’s pangolin walk bipedally/semi-upright, with their forelegs and tails off the ground. The front legs and sharp claws are used for digging to get to termites and ants.
  • When threatened, the pangolin curls into a tight ball and protects its head and soft scale-free belly.