PLAY­ING PANGOLIN

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - COVER STORY -

Lance van de Vyver, New Zealand/South Africa, Fi­nal­ist, Black and White cat­e­gory / Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year Lance had tracked the pride for sev­eral hours be­fore they stopped to rest by a wa­ter­hole, but their at­ten­tion was not on drink­ing. The lions (in South Africa’s Tswalu Kala­hari Pri­vate Game Re­serve) had dis­cov­ered a Tem­minck’s ground pangolin. This noc­tur­nal, ant-eat­ing mam­mal is ar­mour-plated with scales made of fused hair, and it curls up into an al­most im­preg­nable ball when threat­ened. Pan­golins usu­ally es­cape un­scathed from big cats (though not from hu­mans, whose ex­ploita­tion of them for the tra­di­tional medicine trade is caus­ing their se­vere de­cline). But these lions just wouldn’t give up. ‘They rolled it around like a soc­cer ball,’ says Lance. ‘Ev­ery time they lost in­ter­est, the pangolin un­curled and tried to re­treat, at­tract­ing their at­ten­tion again.’ Spot­ting a young lion hold­ing the pangolin ball on a ter­mite mound close to the ve­hi­cle, Lance fo­cused in on the lion’s claws and the pangolin’s scratched scales, choos­ing black and white to help sim­plify the com­po­si­tion. It was14 hours be­fore the pride fi­nally moved off to hunt. The pangolin did not ap­pear to be in­jured, but it died shortly af­ter, prob­a­bly not just from the stress of cap­ture but also from be­ing out in the heat all day.

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