Lucky armadillo-like animal escapes hungry lions clutches by rolling into a ball

A lucky armadillo-like animal escaped the clutches of FIVE LIONS by rolling into an armour-plated ball.

LION V PANGOLIN

The lions gather round the pangolin as it rolls into a balll

The rare pangolin – which like the more well-known armadillo is covered in tough scales – was caught by the lions in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

LION V PANGOLIN

By using its tough scales, the animal can keep it self safe from some of Africa’s most dangerous predators

The extremely unusual encounter is thought to be the first time a pangolin has been photographed repelling such tough hunters.

LION V PANGOLIN

By staying curled up into its ball like shape the pangolin can resist a barrage of attacks

Holly Cheese, from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, captured this amazing event on camera as the animals defences held against a barrage of teeth and claws.

Rarely seen in the wild, it is believed these are some of the first images to ever show the animal performing its defence mechanism against such deadly predators.

Holly, 53, said: “The photographs were taken in the Masai Mara when I was on a photographic tour leaded by the then, BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013, Greg du Toit.

“To give you an idea of how rare pangolins are, I have been photographing with Greg for a number of years and it has always been a standing joke between us that when we have been at a particularly good sighting we say ‘Ok, now let’s go and find the pangolin’.

“Greg has been both a guide and a professional wildlife photographer in Africa for about 18 years and he had never seen a pangolin.”

Holly, who is an aspiring professional photographer, took the brilliant pictures on tour in September

She said: “On the evening these pictures were taken we had been on a very quiet game drive and were just making our way back to camp when we spotted the five young lions.

“They were cubs and juveniles and the lioness was not present.  It was nearly dark and the rules of the Mara do not allow vehicles out after dark so we just thought we would have a quick look at the lions before going in.

“As we approached we saw that they were playing with something that looked like a rock as we got closer Greg exclaimed ‘is it a pangolin? My God its a pangolin’

“There were five lions who were obviously both fascinated and frustrated – they could smell the meat inside the animal but could find no way in.

“It was like giving a dog a rubber toy stuffed with biscuits.  We could not have been more thrilled and proceeded to do what we could to capture the moment although it was by now almost dark which unfortunately meant that the pictures had to be flashed and were not as special as they would have been had we seen them in good daylight.

“However that will never take away the thrill of seeing one of these critically endangered animals.

“We think the pangolin escaped – we returned to the site the next morning and there was no trace, not even a scale.

“I imagine that it remained curled up until the lions eventually lost interest.  It was an incredible sighting.”

Pangolins eat insects and are found across sub-tropical Africa and Asia but are secretive animals and hard to track and spot.

The hardened plates covering their bodies are formed from keratin – a thicker version of the substance than forms human fingernails.

It can curl up into a ball when threatened, with its overlapping scales acting as armour and its face tucked under its tail. The scales are also sharp, providing extra defence.