The Ground pangolin (Manis temminckii), also known as Temminck's pangolin or the Cape pangolin, is one of four species of pangolin which can be found in Africa and the only one in southern and eastern Africa. Although it is present over quite a large area, it is rare throughout it and notoriously difficult to spot.
No studies of any nature have previously been done on ground pangolins in arid environments, with all previous research focusing on populations in the wetter eastern portions of Southern Africa. There is thus no published work on the ‘arid population’ pangolins. Preliminary unpublished data suggest that both home range size and body size of these ‘arid pangolins’ differ significantly from their mesic counterparts.
This project aims to investigate the ecology of ground pangolin in the arid western parts of South Africa.
An important aspect of this project is to find a way of reducing the frequency of electrocution of pangolins on electric fences. For the three years for which data is available, more than 30 pangolins were electrocuted on electric fences on a single farm. This is not a localised occurrence, as conversations with various landowners across South Africa indicate that this is a major problem wherever pangolins and electric fences exist. To assess the ‘impact zone’, this project aims to accurately determine individual animal movements and home range sizes, so as to assess the likelihood of these animals coming into contact with an electrified fence.
Another widespread problem for which a solution is being sought is that of pangolins being caught in gin-traps, an all too frequent occurrence in the Kalahari.
Aims include determining home range size, as well as habitat and refuge use within the home range, as well as assessing general physiological traits such as total length and mass, and comparing this data to animals from the moister eastern regions of Southern Africa.
Prey selectivity and food intake will be assessed and where possible quantified. This will be compared to potential food prevalence data, as inferred from long-term intensive pitfall trapping. The basal metabolic rate in a subset of animals will be determined, and compared to data from the Mpumalanga population in South Africa. Core body temperature of a subset of animals through the seasons will be monitored, to determine whether this species uses any physiological changes (e.g. torpor/mild hibernation) to conserve energy and water. Finally, the major mortality factors for this region will be determined and ways to reduce these mortalities investigated.
Determine home range size and habitat use for each individual.
This will be achieved by fitting a GPS/VHF logger (females) or satellite transmitter (males) to each animal to monitor their movements. Both devices will record the geographical position of the animal on an hourly basis. These data will be overlaid on a vegetation and topographical map to ascertain habitat use, and ground-proofed where necessary. Home range will be determined using the minimum polygon and kernel methods.
Determine diet and prey selectivity
Diet will be determined by direct observation, faecal analysis and stomach content analysis.
Prey availability will be determined on a monthly basis for a full year for each habitat type, using pitfall traps.
Basal Metabolic Rate
Basal metabolic rate will be determined by placing animals in a custom-built metabolic chamber for a period not exceeding 24 hours.
Core body temperature
Core body temperature will be recorded every 15 minutes by a small data logger (<2% body mass) into the interperitoneal organ (an area in the abdomen) of five animals. These loggers will be left in situ for a full year in order to record body temperature across all seasons.
Causes of mortality will be determined by direct observation, interpretation of fence monitoring sheets maintained by the farm, and a questionnaire. The questionnaire aims to ascertain the extent of occurrence of pangolins in the region, the frequency with which they are caught in gin-traps, and the outcome of them being caught (i.e. whether they are released, killed and eaten, already dead etc.).
All results will be passed on to the relevant nature conservation bodies, together with suggestions on how to curb these mortalities. Discussions will also be held to ensure the implementation of the suggested correcting actions.