Johan Vermeulen is no stranger to wildlife photography-and-videography. He is a filmmaker specialising in documentaries who just to happens to be a proud resident at Likweti Bushveld Farm Estate.
He played a big part in the Eye of the Pangolin project: a ground-breaking documentary tells the story of two South African filmmakers who travel the continent to find the elusive African pangolin, the most trafficked mammal on earth.
Award-winning South African filmmakers Bruce Young (Blood Lions) and Johan Vermeulen (Kalahari Tails) set out on a mission to film all four species of African pangolin.
As they travel the continent to learn more about those caring for and studying pangolins they are captivated by these strange, secretive creatures and document the race to save them from being poached to extinction.
Due to an increasingly insatiable poaching and illegal trade market in Asia, the pangolins in that region have almost entirely disappeared. Traditional Chinese Medicine places great value on the supposed healing powers of pangolin scales and their meat is considered a dining delicacy.
Johan was the director of photography for Eye of the Pangolin and shared some insights about the documentary with us.
How did the Eye of the Pangolin project come about?
Being a wildlife filmmaker, there are certain animals that you always dream of doing a film about, but they often seem impossible to do. Pangolins were one of them. Then came the sudden demand in Africa for pangolin scales and I knew this was the time to do something; And what better way to raise awareness about these fascinating animals through the power of film.
Prof. Ray Jansen (The head of the African Pangolin Working Group) was one of my teachers at school, and I’ve been closely following his work with pangolins over the past few years. I met with him to see how I could make a film about their work, and pangolins in general. At that stage they had just started a research project in Ghana on White-bellied Pangolins, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to embark on the journey.
A few months later we were on a plane to Ghana…
How long was the filming process?
The first shoot was in September 2017 in Ghana and the last shoot happened in February 2019 in Gabon.
What do you want viewers to take away from this film?
Raising awareness, as cliched as this phrase might seem, is what we want to achieve with this film. There are still so many people that have never even heard of a pangolin before. If we can change that, if we can make people aware of these beautifully odd little animals, if we can educate them and inform them about the threats they are facing, then I think we have done what we have set out to achieve. Pangolins need all the exposure they can get, as do the people who are working to save them.
One of the aims of the film was to be the first every documentary to capture all 4 African pangolin species in one film! Johan and Bruce travelled far and wide in search of all 4 of these species but knew from the start that it would be a big and difficult task. Watch the documentary to see if they succeeded!
Watch the official trailer for Eye of the Pangolin here:
Filmed in Ultra High Definition on location in South Africa, Ghana, Central African Republic and Gabon, this ambitious pangolin documentary is freely available online for commercial-free viewing.
You can watch the full documentary on YouTube here.