Tuesday 5 January 2021

Yebo, Phinda!

Dutifully watching the TV news last night, it was a novelty, though not a relief, when the gloomy focus moved away from Covid, prison riot, road toll etc to Africa. Not just Africa, but South Africa. And not just South Africa, but Phinda Game Reserve, where I've been. Twice.

The topic was the poaching of pangolins - inoffensive, cute little creatures covered in scales which the Chinese, despite being clever in so many other fields, insist are a vital ingredient in traditional medicine. Like rhino horn, it's just keratin, same as fingernails, and just as inert and useless; but so convinced are the Chinese, and so eager to acquire it, that the poor pangolin is the most poached animal in the entire world.

One ranger interviewed reckoned that the weight of the annual haul of rhino horn, elephant tusk and lion bone, horrific though it is, would have to be multiplied hundreds of times to equal the tonnage of pangolin scales. Incredible, and so sad. I'm guessing it helps that they're so much easier to catch than the other animals. I'm also pretty certain that, with tourism currently so diminished, there are a lot of unemployed people out there busily poaching for an alternative income.

Rescued pangolins, which survive, are released to safety in places like &Beyond's Phinda, a private game reserve where they are very energetic about protecting endangered species. It's a lovely place, with a choice of six environmentally different lodges (mountain, grassland, forest, rock), all of them gorgeous, luxurious and staffed by real enthusiasts. I had such a wonderful time there, and got so close to the animals - bumping along behind cheetah running down a nyala, being looked at by a lion walking right past the open Landcruiser where I was sitting, rushing in reverse away from a black rhino that was pawing the dust before it launched into a charge. 

I didn't see any pangolins though. Sounds like that's getting even more unlikely, now.

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