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Post from a Wild Place 2

Wild visitors at Kimbilio

As I write this, Tamara is in Durban, attending the INDABA trade show. I’m sure she’ll come back with news about tourism developments in the region, and lots of stories to tell.
In the meantime, we’ve encountered a new species on our personal ‘I Would Really Love to See…” list.

It was this past Wednesday. Johnny phoned as Annabelle and I were driving home from Kampala. It’s an hour’s drive to Kimbilio, partly through the traffic/mess/potholes/chaos of Kampala, and then partly through rolling tea estates, shambas and forests. We had just hit the dirt road when he called, and his message was cryptic. “When will you be home? I’ve found a mammal you should see”.

Tree Pangolin

Tree Pangolin

Tree Pangolin comes to visit

Tree Pangolin comes to visit

Who says that?

Not “I found a cat”, not “there’s this dikdik that wandered into the garden”, not “I finally spotted the bush babies that we’ve been hearing every night” No. “I’ve found a mammal”. We were mystified.

I wanted to rush home, but those rains that were supposed to be tailing off by now have done no such thing, so the driving was slow, both hands on the wheel, the 4WD engaged in High Range. Mud driving is a part of daily life these days.

When we did eventually get back to Kimbilio, Johnny was on the veranda with a large Kikapu on the daybed. The dogs were milling about with a sense of purpose. At the bottom of the basket was a tightly coiled ball of scales. A Tree Pangolin. I’ve only ever seen a Giant Pangolin, up in Kidepo, in the dark, on our way back to the lodge after sundowners. And here on my veranda was a miniature version of this extraordinary creature, sleeping, curled up like a snail. I reached in and touched his hard scales – extraordinary. Like a cross between a hedgehog, an aardvark and a sloth. He opened one eye and peered at me, comically, and slowly unfurled. His belly was soft and fuzzy and all I could think of was how his eyes reminded me of Sid in Ice Age, placed on opposite sides of his pointy face, little eyes, friendly eyes. His ears were like open valves.
He curled his tail around my hand and hung upside down briefly before curling himself up again, displaying enviable abs strength. These animals are usually nocturnal so it was odd that he’d wandered across our lawn in the early afternoon. Maybe poachers had disturbed his habitat – apparently this is the biggest threat to Tree Pangolins: being hunted for bush meat. That and the newest threat: being caught and exported to Asia. Their scales are popular in Chinese medicine. Tree Pangolins are on Annex II of the CITES list (Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species), i.e.: not threatened now with extinction, but may become so unless strict regulation is enforced (other faunaon this list – there are over 2,000 – include Polar Bears, African Grey Parrots and the Great White Shark).

Annabelle took him back to the edge of the forest and lay him among some thick roots hidden by tall grass. Reluctantly we walked back to the house, knowing that we were unlikely to see this gorgeous creature again. Of course I ran back to peek but within 5 minutes he’d vanished into the trees.Annabelle has left to go back to Nova Scotia. The house is quiet and it’s back to just me, Johnny and the animals, and back to the ‘I Would Really Love to See’ list. I’m longing to catch sight of those bushbabies or Galagos who screech and squawk at night in the forests by the house. Stay tuned…

May 12, 2013