(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

The pangolins are in trouble and two South African filmmakers, Bruce Young and Johan Vermeulen have made it their mission to make us understand why. 

Eye of the Pangolin – a 45 minute documentary which premiered on Endangered Species Day (May 17) – is now available for streaming, for free, via the Pangolin.Africa website and YouTube channel.

The wildlife documentary sees Young and Vermeulen travel the continent to find the four different species of the elusive African pangolin, the most trafficked mammal on earth. The two believe that awareness us the only way to save the pangolin from annihilation. 

Due to an increasingly insatiable market in Asia, the pangolins in that region have almost entirely disappeared, as they continue to be poached and become part of the illegal wildlife trade. Traditional Chinese medicine places great value on the supposed healing powers of pangolin scales and their meat is considered a dining delicacy.     


We chatted to Young to find out more about the crisis. 


Why did you chose the Pangolins?

Johan Vermeulen, a gifted young cameraman asked if I’d help him make a pangolin film. I hardly knew anything about the animal, “Why these animals?” I asked. And then he told me about the illegal wildlife trade and that pangolins were the most trafficked mammals on the planet right now. And they were in serious danger of going extinct within our lifetime. I was curious and horrified.


What where some of the production challenges while filming this species?

Finding them. They are incredibly shy and elusive. I contacted as many people as possible who I knew were working with or studying pangolins. This meant we had at least a reasonable chance of finding one to film when we arrived on location. But we still needed to travel to very remote places all over the continent. Travelling in Africa is not for the faint-hearted, so just getting to a place where we might find a pangolin was always a challenge.


What myths did you bust?

It was thought that all four species were nocturnal, but one of the African pangolin species is diurnal. So we were able to film the Black-bellied tree pangolin in the Central African Republic during the day. The other three pangolin species are all nocturnal, although one of the ground pangolins did emerge from his burrow just before sunset one evening.


What wildlife shows do you enjoy watching?

I enjoy wildlife and nature films that attempt to capture the true essence of the animals whose stories that they are telling. I’m an unashamed fan of the classic, blue-chip David Attenborough style of BBC natural history films. But there are also many other superb wildlife filmmakers out there who tell the most incredible stories in very innovative ways. A favourite from a few years ago was “My Life As A Turkey”. I do not enjoy many of the over-hyped-and-dramatised nature shows that some of the major entertainment channels produce.


Hopes for the doccy?

We hope that this film will not only introduce people to the beautiful animal, but also that it will touch their hearts. Then if they care enough to share the film with other people in their network or community, then there is a chance that we can save this animal from disappearing forever. It would be a huge loss if that were to happen and we would have to bear the responsibility for that.

Watch Eye of the Pangolin here: