Film-maker raises awareness around pangolins

Bruce Young

A local film-maker hopes his documentary on pangolins, scaly anteaters, will get the public to rally round and raise awareness about what he says is one of the most trafficked mammals.

Bruce Young from Kenilworth, will screen this documentary, Eye of the Pangolin, at Erin Hall in Rondebosch on Tuesday July 30, at 7pm, co-hosted by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and Pangolin.Africa.

The documentary tells the story of two men, Mr Young and Johan Vermeulen, from Nelspruit, who are on a mission to share the wonder of all four species of African pangolin on camera for the first time.

Mr Young said Mr Vermeulen approached him in 2017 with his dream to make a film about pangolins.

“Like most people today, I knew very little about these odd little creatures. I certainly didn’t know that they were already the most trafficked mammal on the planet – even more so than rhinos. Johan’s passion for the project initially got me interested and when he mentioned one of the key words that any documentary film-maker looks for – ‘access’, I felt there was the possibility of creating something special with this project,” he said.

They started filming in Ghana in mid-2017 and later in Central African Republic and Gabon. The documentary was released on May 17 – Endangered Species Day.

Mr Young said the purpose behind the documentary was to raise awareness about the four African pangolin species.

“If people know about them and how special they are, they might begin to care enough to help conserve them. Conservation means helping to put an end to the illegal trade in their scales and meat. In order to do this we needed to tell their story – people remember stories far more than facts and figures. Pangolins are notoriously shy and elusive little animals and so it was an enormous challenge to get them on film,” he said.

Pangolin.Africa is the film’s major production partner, and are managing its campaign. Pangolin.Africa is an NPO dedicated to the conservation of this species.

Director Toby Jermyn said they were fortunate to have secured funding for production of the documentary, and therefore did not need to sell it on to networks to recoup costs.

“As we are not tied to a distributor, we’re able to make it freely available as an open source film, allowing us to reach the greatest possible number of viewers in the shortest possible time. The widespread accessibility of the internet, even in remote areas, means fewer barriers to entry for viewers than if we were to screen the film in cinemas. Currently the most watched wildlife documentary on YouTube has around 10 million views and we are determined to exceed this,” he said.

Mr Jermyn said the situation facing the African pangolin had reached a tipping point.

“A growing demand for their scales and meat used in traditional Chinese medicine is fuelling the horrific poaching and illegal trade that is pushing this species to the edge of extinction. In April this year allone, two separate seizures by Singaporean customs officials resulted in more than 24 tonnes of pangolin scales being confiscated. This equates to approximately 69 000 pangolins.”

Mr Young is no stranger to the film industry, having worked as an actor for 10 years, before moving to Los Angeles. He later returned to South Africa and helped established AFDA. He made his directorial debut in 2015 with the film Blood Lions – an international documentary feature exposing the canned lion hunting industry in South Africa.

Other highlights have been his time as head-writer on League of Glory, the popular family drama for M-Net and writing the script for the award-winning documentary Kalahari Tails.