Temminck's Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)

Temminck’s Ground Pangolin is the most widespread of the four African pangolin species, occurring from northern South Africa through most of East Africa and into southern Sudan and southern Chad. It is the second-largest species, with the largest individual to date weighing 19 kg. Individuals average 7–12 kg and may reach a length of 1.2 m. Size varies geographically, with smaller animals being found in semi-arid environments and larger animals in moist environments.

This species is entirely terrestrial and prefers savannahs and woodlands. They are predominantly nocturnal, but this varies with age and geographically and in some regions they may be predominantly diurnal during certain times of the year.

They are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and their population is believed to be decreasing.

  • Temminck's ground pangolin is entirely terrestrial, and its morphology reflects this mode of life. They are bipedal, walking only on their hind legs while the front limbs and tail are held off the ground and are used as counter-weights fro balance. When climbing up steep embankments, individuals may use the front limbs as well to provide extra traction and may also 'push' themselves up with the tail. The tail is fairly broad and extremely muscular, and is used for protection.
    They are predominantly nocturnal, although in the Kalahari and other cool regions many individuals become more diurnal during winter. Juveniles have a greater tendency to be active during the day throughout their range.
    They do not dig their own burrows, but rather make use of old burrows that were dug by other species such as Aardvark Orycteropus afer, Porcupine Hystrix africaeaustralis, Warthog Phacochoerus africanus and Springhare Pedetes capensis.
    Home ranges vary in size from 600–1 400 hectares (6–14 km2), and are smaller for younger animals. Some studies have found that a male's home range overlaps the home ranges of 4-5 females, while other studies have found that a single male and female will share a nearly identical home range. Home range dynamics may vary geographically, but this remains to be determined. In the Kalahari a home range is typically shared by an adult male and female, the previous year's offspring, and one young animal that does not yet have a home range and wonders across the territories of other individuals in its search for a vacant territory.

  • Pangolins are solitary, with males and females only coming together briefly to breed. It is believed that males and females locate each other while out foraging, through a scent 'trail' that is left by the female. If a female is receptive, the male will approach her and after some courtship will mount her from the side. They will eventually retire to the female's den, and may remain together in the den for up to three days, presumably mating at frequent intervals.
    The female gives birth to a single offspring (pup) after a gestation period of 105-140 days. She may very rarely give birth to twins. The pup remains in the natal burrow for the first month, with the female periodically returning to nurse it. The female will periodically move the pup to a different den, with the pup being carried on the base of the mother's tail. After about a month the pup starts accompanying the mother when she forages, and as it grows older it takes turns riding on the mother's back and foraging alongside the mother. The pup will stay with the mother for about three months, and rarely may accompany the father for an additional month. Thereafter it becomes completely independent, although remaining in the mother's home range until about one year old.
    The exact age of sexual maturity is not known, although it is believed that females will breed for the first time when 3-4 years old after they have established their own home range. Males probably become sexually mature at a similar age, but probably only breed for the first time once they have established their own territories (perhaps as late as 5-7 years old).

  • The diet consists entirely of ants and termites, with ants constituting about 90-95% of the diet and termites making up 5-10% of the diet. The relative proportion of each prey group varies geographically, seasonally and between individuals.
    In the semi-arid regions of South Africa most foraging digs are superficial (less than 4 cm deep). Ants are usually preyed on at their surface holes, which are shallowly dug open, or in old, crumbling termite mounds. Termites are also usually preyed on from their port holes on the soil surface. Pangolins will often prey on termites at an active termite nest, but then mostly after the hard exterior of the termite mound has been opened by another species (such as the Aardvark Orycteropus afer. Pangolins will very rarely make small openings in the hard coverings of termite mounds to feed, but usually only during or directly after rain when the termite mound is softer. Foraging data from other regions of southern Africa have not been published yet.
    They are very selective with regards to the species of ants and termites eaten, and do not simply eat the most abundant species. The ant genera that have been recorded in the pangolin's diet include Acantholepis, Aenictus, Anoplepis, Camponotus, Crematogaster, Dorylus, Monomorium, Myrmicaria, Ocymyrmex, Paltothyreus, Pheidole, Polyrhachis, Tapenonia, Technomyrmex, Tetramorium and Xiphomyrmex. Termite species that are eaten include Hodotermes, Odontotermes, Rhadinotermes and Trinervitermes.

  • Temminck's Ground Pangolins have very few natural enemies. Large carnivores, especially lions Panthera leo, Leopards Panthera pardus and Laughing Hyaenas Crocuta crocuta are occasionally seen 'playing' with rolled up pangolins, although this is believed to be more our of curiosity than hunger. The pangolin's armour forms a formidable defense, and many adult pangolins have chipped scales, tooth and claw marks as testament to an encounter with a curious carnivore. Lions do occasionally manage to kill and eat pangolins, with some individuals becoming quite accomplished pangolin hunters. Hyenas are also known to occasionally kill and eat pangolins. Honeybadgers Mellivora capensis are the main predators of pangolins in some regions.
    Man is by far the biggest threat to pangolins. Pangolins are extensively poached for Traditional African Medicine, and to a lesser degree as bushmeat. Pangolin derivatives, especially the scales, play an important role in many cultural traditions and rituals, and these vary culturally. In recent times there has been a rapid rise in the number of pangolins that have been poached and shipped to overseas markets, especially those in Asia, where their scales are sought-after for various Traditional Chinese Medicine remedies.
    An estimated 250 pangolins are accidentally killed on southern Africa's roads each year, while an additional 350-1 000 individuals are believed to be accidentally electrocuted on game and livestock fences annually.

  • This species is widespread from northern and eastern South Africa, north to Angola and east into East Africa and southern Sudan and Chad.

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