Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
Thousands of years ago, this strange scaly creature may have inspired the first stories of dragons. This is a pangolin, one of the rarest and most elusive animals in Africa – in ten years of working in African reserves, this one in Gorongosa National Park is the only wild pangolin I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen others, but they’ve all been confiscated from poachers. Pangolins are the only mammals that have large scales made of keratin, which are just modified hairs. These charismatic creatures are coveted in Asia for their meat and scales, which are believed to have medicinal properties even though they’re made of the same stuff as human fingernails. Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals in the world, and all eight pangolin species, which live in Africa and Asia, are protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Parks like Gorongosa are critical for their survival.