Where to look for pangolins in Africa
Finding a pangolin on safari often requires sheer luck. But you can increase your chances of seeing one if you include known pangolin habitats on your safari itinerary. You should also go out at night—either on nighttime game drives or by viewing animals from a hide. An experienced safari planner like Ujuzi African travel can help ensure your safari meets these criteria.
Pangolins are native to all mainland African countries where Ujuzi works. But in some parts of Africa, guides may not be able to facilitate pangolin sightings. This restriction is more likely in areas with high rates of poaching. If you are set on getting the best chance to see pangolins, focus on destinations known for their pangolin programs. We discuss several of these places below.
More importantly, we provide information about groups working to help pangolins. By protecting pangolins from poaching and habitat encroachment, we can ensure that they will be around for future safari goers.
Western Kenya has giant ground pangolins and tree pangolins. Travelers have seen pangolins in several places, including the Lake Naivasha area, Tsavo Conservation Area, and the Mara Triangle on the border with Tanzania.
The Pangolin Project works to conserve pangolins through protection, research, education, and advocacy. Its research team is based at The Safari Collection’s Sala’s Camp in the Masai Mara. Visitors to Sala’s Camp can accompany the research team as it conducts field work. This provides you with the rare opportunity to travel through the savanna on foot—and you might see a pangolin while you’re at it!
Namibia has several pangolin conservation projects where you can get a chance to see these rare animals.
Okonjima Nature Reserve in north-central Namibia is home to the AfriCat Pangolin Research Program. The program observes wild Temminck’s ground pangolins to understand them. This is one of the better places to find pangolins in Namibia, although Okonjima does not guarantee you will see one.
Learn more about visiting AfriCat and Okonjima.
At Erindi Private Game Reserve in central Namibia, some Temminck’s ground pangolins have been fitted with tracking devices. These devices help the conservation team monitor them and keep them safe. With dedicated pangolin tracking activities, you can venture out with a guide in the early morning or before dusk—during prime pangolin activity—and try to catch a glimpse of a pangolin before it returns to its burrow.
Another place to see pangolins is the REST wildlife rehabilitation center near Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. REST, or the Rare & Endangered Species Trust, has rehabilitated several pangolins that were rescued from poachers. These pangolins sleep in burrows at the center during the day and forage in the wild at night. Afternoon visitors have the best chance of seeing one of these pangolins.
South Africa is home to a few reserves with specialized pangolin programs. Visitors can meet the scientists who run the programs and observe their work. This results in a high chance of seeing wild pangolins in person!
At &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve near South Africa’s eastern coast, a team of scientists is reintroducing Temminck’s ground pangolins to the local ecosystem. In December 2020, a wild pangolin pup was born in the region for the first time in decades—all thanks to this work!
At Phinda, you have the option of going out with the program’s ecological monitors to check on reintroduced animals. In addition to viewing a pangolin, you may have the opportunity to help out with a pangolin health check—for example, by holding the pangolin as the team checks its weight.
In northern South Africa, you have a good chance of seeing the elusive Temminck’s ground pangolin if you stay at the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve and opt to shadow researchers there. Tswalu works closely with the African Pangolin Working Group (APWG), aiding with research and conservation.
Three of Africa’s pangolin species are native to Tanzania, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find. Occasionally there are sightings of giant ground pangolins in the Serengeti. Staying at Namiri Plains Camp in the Serengiti’s isolated Soit Le Motonyi region offers your best bet for seeing pangolins there. (And if you miss out on pangolins, you are pretty much guaranteed to see high numbers of cheetahs and many of the Big Five.) The Ruaha Valley of southcentral Tanzania is known for its population of Temminck’s ground pangolins.
But keep in mind that these are very large areas. There is no guarantee of seeing a pangolin on a visit.
The Tanzanian organization African People & Wildlife works to protect wildlife and habitats, including those of pangolins. They do this through direct conservation and by working with rural Tanzanians to create livelihoods that do not rely on poaching or damage to Tanzania’s natural resources.