Full EpisodeThe World's Most Wanted Animal

Join conservationist Maria Diekmann in the crusade to save pangolins, the most trafficked animal in the world. Learn more about these scaly yet endearing mammals whose basic biology remains a mystery, hampering conservation efforts.

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♪♪ NARRATOR: This remarkable creature is a pangolin.

On first impression, it's more like a walking pinecone or a friendly little dragon.

But these unlikely creatures are now known for something more ominous -- They are the most-trafficked wild mammal in the world.

REPORTER: 100,000 pangolins a year are hunted and trafficked like this.

REPORTER #2: More than 4,000 pangolins were killed to collect the nearly three tons of scales.

MAN: More valuable than ivory.

NARRATOR: Conservationist Maria Diekmann is on a mission to save these vulnerable animals.

DIEKMANN: There's not a chance this pangolin will be alive a week from now if I can't save it.

NARRATOR: And one special little pangolin named Honey Bun will let us meet these strange, intelligent, affectionate creatures... DIEKMANN: Are you gonna open up for me?

NARRATOR: ...before they are lost to the world forever.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ NARRATOR: Pangolins are shy, secretive creatures... ...quite unlike anything else on Earth.

♪♪ Their claws can dig through concrete.

Their thin, sticky tongues are as long as their bodies.

♪♪ They can travel along on their hind legs.

♪♪ These animals have walked the planet for over 40 million years, and there are eight distinct species.

Four are found in Africa... ...and four in Asia.

♪♪ Pangolins are the world's only truly scaly mammals.

Their scales, just like human fingernails, are made from keratin.

But this remarkable natural armor is the cause of their destruction.

In the last 20 years, the demand for pangolin scales for use in traditional Asian medicines has decimated their numbers worldwide.

Today, a pangolin will be taken from the wild every five minutes.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ [ Diekmann speaking native language ] ♪♪ In Namibia, conservationist Maria Diekmann is on the front line of the battle to save these animals.

She's been contacted by a stranger with a pangolin to sell.

DIEKMANN: If we see that it's alive and I can't convince this guy, I've got to walk away.

That's really hard.

But if I don't walk away and then I pay him an extraordinary amount of money, then I promise you, tomorrow he's back in the bush and he's getting the next one.

I've got a 50/50 chance.

You can film for a couple more minutes, and then camera away.

♪♪ NARRATOR: The call has brought Maria to a poor township, where selling a pangolin could bring great wealth.

But she's determined to pay nothing to ensure no value is placed on these animals.

DIEKMANN: I'd love to see her, see if she's okay, but if you keep her, she is going to die.

She's going to die. There's not a question about it.

There's nothing you can feed her.

Nobody in the world has kept pangolins in captivity except for three people.

I'm one of them.

This is a guy who's taken an opportunity.

He probably just wants some extra money for his family, maybe even a good thing to put his kids in school, who knows, and he thinks that this is a way to do it.

NARRATOR: After a tense four-hour negotiation, Maria leaves with the pangolin in hand.

But this is just the beginning.

DIEKMANN: Every moment counts.

It's really a life-and-death situation.

NARRATOR: Pangolins are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity.

♪♪ DIEKMANN: Tell me you're still alive.

NARRATOR: Fortunately, this traumatized animal will have a second chance, thanks to Maria.

She's one of only a handful of people in the world to have successfully rehabilitated pangolins.

But for every one she saves, thousands more are being taken from the wild.

REPORTER: The pangolin is so sought-after, it's considered the most widely trafficked animal in the world, critically endangered and facing extinction.

REPORTER #2: It is a difficult battle, and the odds aren't with them.

NARRATOR: Maria runs an organization called REST -- The Rare & Endangered Species Trust.

♪♪ Her fight for pangolins began just five years ago.

DIEKMANN: My first real pangolin that came to me that I spent any time with, she was actually offered to a shop owner.

He bought her to save her, and he called me.

We formed this incredible bond, which pangolins don't usually do with humans, but we realized why.

Two days later, as I was preparing to get a tracker on her and try and release her, she actually gave birth.

Start filming. WOMAN: It's filming.

DIEKMANN: This has never happened before.

NARRATOR: This was the first time anyone had filmed the birth of a pangolin.

DIEKMANN: She was waiting till she felt secure enough, and I was able to provide that.

At that time in the world, nobody else had ever raised a baby that young.

There were no books that we could turn to, there was really nobody that had ever done what we were getting ready to do.

Okay, so, this little boy going into... We had to sort of pioneer how to handle such a young baby pup.

And look at that.

It's 3.99.

Oh, my God, this is so exciting.

NARRATOR: Since that first encounter, Maria has rescued over 50 Cape pangolins.

DIEKMANN: You're going to go back into the wild today.

♪♪ Are you gonna open up for me?

NARRATOR: Each one teaches her something new about these little-understood creatures.

But in 2015, a very special animal arrived.

A baby pangolin that would offer a deeper insight to her species, and change everything.

DIEKMANN: The arrival of Honey Bun was probably one of the saddest arrivals ever.

The mother was seriously abused.

She'd been kicked around.

It was obviously on a cement floor, because you could see streaks of the paint on her scales.

Honey Bun had no damage whatsoever.

So what had probably happened is the mother had rolled around Honey Bun to protect her.

NARRATOR: But the mother was so traumatized by her mistreatment that she escaped as soon as she could... [ Birds chirping ] ...leaving Maria to raise the newly-named Honey Bun... [ Clatter ] ...in a unique living situation... ♪♪ ...sharing her home with a troublesome toddler.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ DIEKMANN: Honey Bun?

♪♪ ♪♪ Honey Bun!

There's nothing for you in there.

[ Sighs ] When one little baby pangolin comes in, you're talking about years and years and years of complete commitment.

NARRATOR: Young pangolins require round-the-clock attention.

And as they get older, the biggest challenge is keeping them well-fed.

Now 18 months old, Honey Bun has developed quite an appetite.

Like all pangolins, she feeds exclusively on insects, sniffing them out with her highly sensitive nose.

She has no teeth, but uses her long, sticky tongue to lap them up.

Her scales, able to withstand the bite of a lion, help protect her from angry ants.

And she shuts her nostrils and ears when feeding.

Pangolins need to eat millions of insects in a year.

♪♪ The only way Maria can provide this diet is to allow her pangolins to forage naturally for up to five hours a day.

♪♪ DIEKMANN: Oh, my goodness gracious, if I had known that I was going to have to spend this much time walking pangolins, I might have second-guessed myself.

NARRATOR: Honey Bun can cover up to six miles to feed each day.

And Maria goes with her, watching her every move.

♪♪ Their trusting relationship gives Maria the chance to observe natural pangolin behavior.

DIEKMANN: I've spent thousands and thousands of hours in the bush walking behind pangolins.

Yeah, I've probably observed things that nobody in the world has ever seen.

A lot of people have thought that they knew a lot about pangolins, and those have become facts that are actually incorrect.

The books will tell you that they eat termites and ants.

No, they mainly eat ants.

The books will tell you they're nocturnal.

No, no in winter, they're not nocturnal at all.

And that's the process that we're in now, is actually determining what's true, what's not true, and figuring out really more about them so that we can save them.

NARRATOR: Pangolins are so difficult to study in the wild, we don't even know how long they live.

♪♪ Maria's unique access is helping to build our understanding of this species.

She meticulously records everything she observes... ...and is analyzing this with the help of students, such as Harvard graduate Lorena Vernitz.

VERNITZ: Honey Bun is incredibly important.

No one else has really been able to follow a pangolin, like, through their life like this.

So, we can really see, like, how feeding-patterns behavior changes, not just between seasons, but during different life stages, so you really understand, like, the whole pangolin lifecycle.

With all the data we have from Honey Bun, there's just a whole-new world of possibility opened up for pangolin conservation in the wild.

♪♪ NARRATOR: Piece by piece, Honey Bun is helping to unravel the mysteries that surround her kind.

♪♪ ♪♪ But time is not on their side.

[ Thunder rumbles ] African pangolins are increasingly under threat.

DIEKMANN: About three years ago, we started stopping shipments, looking mainly for rhino and for elephant, and started finding thousands of tons of pangolins.

That was the real wake-up call for all of us.

And nobody knew.

She's a little disturbed this evening.

You know, we've got a really big storm coming in.

Yeah.

And she just doesn't want to sleep.

And there's... I want to show you something.

This is the kind of stuff that actually keeps me awake at night.

NARRATOR: The problem of pangolin poaching in Africa stems from the other side of the world.

REPORTER: More than 4,000 pangolins were killed to collect the nearly three tons of pangolin scales.

NARRATOR: In Asia, pangolin scales have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and Asian species have long been hunted for their scales... REPORTER #2: Restaurants here openly, but illegally, serve pangolin on the menu.

NARRATOR: ...and their meat.

DIEKMANN: Well, you can see some of these guys don't even have scales.

All different ages.

There's quite a young one.

Look at this little baby here -- probably a newborn or just about ready to be born.

Ah, and this is a delicacy in Asia.

[ Man speaking native language ] NARRATOR: This demand has driven Asian pangolins to the brink of extinction, and the international black market is now turning to African species.

Hundreds of thousands of African pangolin scales are being illegally shipped out of the continent.

This increased trafficking means more confiscations and more pangolins in need of Maria's help.

[ Thunder rumbles ] She has to prepare for the worst, so she's building for the future.

♪♪ DIEKMANN: I basically sold just about everything I owned.

My family thought I was absolutely mad, and my mother was terrified that I was going to be on the street, but it's absolutely the best decision I've ever made.

NARRATOR: With help from charitable donations, Maria is building a rehab center just for pangolins.

DIEKMANN: We now have a permanent home.

It's about 300 hectares, so we've got enough room for our animals to move around in.

The center has to become one of the leading centers for pangolins, not for our reputation, but simply because there's pangolins that need care in this country.

NARRATOR: Fortunately, one recent arrival is already making a big difference.

DIEKMANN: Steven is this amazing young man who walked into our lives out of the blue.

We moved to this new area, and he saw our vehicle, and he approached one of my students and basically said, 'I want to work for these people.'

And he's been here for about six months, and you would have thought he's been here for 20 years.

Honey Bun adores Steven, and he adores her.

STEVEN: I feel like it's not a job, it's something God wanted me to do.

NARRATOR: Now Steven has the responsibility of walking Honey Bun every day.

♪♪ Where she goes, he must follow -- not easy in the dense bush.

And it's clear who's really in charge.

STEVEN: She's the boss.

NARRATOR: With Steven on board, things are looking up for Maria.

But every day, it seems there is more bad news for pangolins.

DIEKMANN: Yesterday's paper -- big confiscation of elephant ivory, but also pangolins, so it's just getting worse and worse every day.

In the last couple of months even, we're seeing a lot more confiscations going on.

It's probably a good thing in that at least the authorities are catching people, but I suspect a lot of it is not just due to authorities being really jacked up, it's due to a lot more trafficking going on.

NARRATOR: And it seems the problem is getting closer to home.

-DIEKMANN: Where's the wire? -STEVEN: This one.

NARRATOR: Steven has found evidence of snare traps.

STEVEN: Maria, I got two wires again here.

one have got a loop.

There.

DIEKMANN: That's 100% it. Ah!

See, there's the loop that goes in right like... All right. [ Sighs ] Oh, man.

Now any animal puts its head through, and then as it gets its shoulders through and the shoulders are too big.

the wire closes in around their neck.

So, it's quite a -- quite a violent death.

[ Sighs ] If I didn't love my car so much, I would kick it.

I just... That somebody thinks they have the right to come onto my property and kill my animals and Steven's animals.

It's -- It's... It's just wrong.

NARRATOR: As Maria is fighting to protect her own backyard, there are more cries for help from farther afield, and they're growing increasingly disturbing.

DIEKMANN: I just had this gentleman write to me.

He was traveling through Angola.

Now he's just sent me a bunch of pictures.

And there are a bunch of pangolins hanging from a wire, and they're in different positions in every picture.

I just thought it was a whole set of different pictures, and I realize... that these pangolins are alive.

[ Sighs ] Yeah, I had to tell him to leave the pangolins there.

Can't smuggle pangolins.

We can't be thought to be smuggling pangolins.

We've got to work within the parameters of our laws and our governments and our agreements with other countries.

WOMAN: How does that feel?

DIEKMANN: Very disempowering, really frustrating.

[ Sighs ] [ Voice breaking ] You know, it's not enough to just save Honey Bun.

It's not going to help us to make changes here in Africa and we don't stop the Asian market.

The Asian market is the key market, and if we can slow that down or start to put a stop to that, that's going to solve a lot of our problems.

Sometimes you just feel like this one little person in this big, big ocean.

♪♪ ♪♪ NARRATOR: For Maria, the time has come to take action.

She's going to journey into the very heart of the pangolin crisis.

♪♪ DIEKMANN: Asia's gone through what Africa's going to start going through.

What's important now is that I go over there and I learn as much as I can.

My reception just goes out.

I'm very lucky to have reception at the moment.

NARRATOR: She's reaching out to people in Asia who, like her, are working on the front line.

DIEKMANN: I'm not the only person trying to save pangolins.

There's not a lot of people. We all know each other's names.

Very few of us have ever met.

NARRATOR: But Maria is also hoping she can do something to combat the demand for pangolins.

DIEKMANN: In Asia, we're looking at the end consumer, so if we can figure out with the Asians any way to stop that end consumerism, then we can stop the poaching over here.

It's the longest I'll ever have been away from Steven and Honey Bun, and I think Steven's terrified.

But he's going to be fine.

He'll be perfect, and I'm a phone call away if he needs me.

But I think he's going to be perfect.

[ Voice breaking ] If you need anything, you just call, okay?

STEVEN: Yes.

DIEKMANN: You'll do great. I'm really proud of you, okay?

I'm going to miss Honey Bun terribly.

Take good care of her.

She's a part of my life.

She's been part of my life for so many months and years now that I'm going to miss her.

[ Steven sighs ] ♪♪ NARRATOR: Maria's mission will take her over 6,000 miles from home to a completely different world.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Maria wants to prepare for the challenge of rescuing more of Africa's pangolins.

So she is here to meet someone who's been leading the fight to save the Asian species.

Thai Van Nguyen is a world leader in pangolin conservation.

VAN NGUYEN: How are you doing?

DIEKMANN: Oh great.

Oh, Thai, how -- Oh, it's amazing to finally meet you and be here.

NARRATOR: Thai runs an organization called Save Vietnam's Wildlife.

Based in the forests of the country's oldest national park, his team is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating the world's most endangered species of pangolins.

DIEKMANN: Meeting Thai has been a dream come true.

He's exactly what I wanted him to be -- you know, the sort of kindred spirit that has dedicated basically his life to pangolins.

What a pleasure to meet somebody else that -- that makes you realize that you're not so crazy after all.

I can't wait to see some of the Asian pangolins.

RUSMAN: Hiya. VAN NGUYEN: Hello.

DIEKMANN: Hi.

Hi, I'm Maria.

RUSMAN: Hi, nice to meet you. I'm Maddie.

DIEKMANN: Hi, Maddie. Nice to meet you.

RUSMAN: Welcome. Welcome to Vietnam.

DIEKMANN: Thank you.

NARRATOR: Animal Manager Madelon Rusman is keen to show Maria some of Honey Bun's Asian cousins.

DIEKMANN: Oh. She's beautiful.

NARRATOR: This is a Sunda pangolin.

RUSMAN: Do you want to put her on the scales?

NARRATOR: This adult female has been at the center for five weeks, and is being prepared for release.

DIEKMANN: Let's put her on this. Is this hair?

RUSMAN: Yeah, so, the difference between the African and Asian ones is that the Asian ones have hair between the scales.

DIEKMANN: Her back feet have -- have much longer claws than our Cape.

Our Cape, the back feet don't have claws -- just the front.

-RUSMAN: Really? -DIEKMANN: Yeah.

She's -- She's absolutely gorgeous.

NARRATOR: Unlike the Cape pangolins that Maria knows, the Sunda spends much of its life in the trees.

It's the most widely distributed species in Asia.

But as a result of illegal trade, it's now critically endangered.

[ Engine idling ] Save Vietnam's Wildlife is a lifeline for pangolins rescued from the black market.

They've received over 400 this year alone.

And more are arriving all the time.

VAN NGUYEN: No.

DIEKMANN: Okay.

NARRATOR: 15 Sunda pangolins were confiscated near the Vietnamese border with China.

The team assesses the surviving animals for any sign of injury.

They've all been vomiting a yellow substance.

DIEKMANN: And what is the yellow indicating?

That they were force-fed? VAN NGUYEN: Yeah.

That is the tubes where they try to put inside the belly of the pangolin and put through the mouth.

So, you will see -- this here.

-WOMAN: MAN #2: NARRATOR: These pangolins were destined for the dinner table, and force-fed to increase their weight and price.

VAN NGUYEN: Oh, look, that's in.

DIEKMANN: Every single one of these pangolins went through that same thing?

VAN NGUYEN: Yeah, they -- DIEKMANN: So they were all handled by a bunch of loud, noisy people pumping things -- rice into their stomach.

VAN NGUYEN: Yeah, yeah.

♪♪ NARRATOR: When frightened, a pangolin's first defense is to roll into a protective ball, but this makes it easy prey for poachers.

♪♪ ♪♪ Most of the animals are mercifully free from injury.

DIEKMANN: You hungry, maybe?

NARRATOR: But one young male is in real trouble.

His back leg has been severed, most likely by a snare.

VAN NGUYEN: Oh, my God.

[ Sighs ] DIEKMANN: It should give him a pretty good chance of survival.

VAN NGUYEN: Yeah.

♪♪ DIEKMANN: The amount of animals coming in, it's almost overwhelming.

If the demand continues to increase in Asia, like it is now, then Africa's heading for this type of situation.

Which means the confiscations are not going to be one or two animals.

They're going to be 10 or 20 animals, exactly what Thai's dealing with.

If I envision that happening at our center, we'd have a really, really difficult time.

NARRATOR: It would be impossible for Maria to cater for the number of pangolins that Thai's team handles in a year.

But there's one big advantage here... ♪♪ ...readily available food.

They can buy frozen ant pupae, a popular snack for people in Asia.

But they're too expensive for Maria to import back home.

RUSMAN: I can't imagine you have to walk five hours per animal.

DIEKMANN: Yeah, I can't imagine you get to open your freezer.

-RUSMAN: Yeah. -DIEKMANN: Wow.

NARRATOR: Ant nests can also be collected from the trees, if you can reach them.

DIEKMANN: They're like little package dinners for the pangolins.

This would never be something we could do in Namibia.

Unfortunately, our ants are in the ground, so, you know, we would basically have to decimate a one-meter area, and by the time we've done that, to get that piece of ground out, the ants are going to be forming, you know, poison for the pangolins, and it'll never work.

NARRATOR: But there is one area where Maria can learn a lot from this team - pangolin surgery.

The young male with the missing leg has been sedated, and is about to undergo a life-saving operation.

DIEKMANN: Last night, he showed an amazing attitude.

He is, he's a plucky little guy.

All the more courage to him.

NARRATOR: Pangolins are so rarely kept in captivity that procedures like this are not common practice.

For the vets, each one is a new experience.

DIEKMANN: This is like doctors working in a war zone.

They've got patient after patient after patient, and so they have to learn to work very quickly, they have to learn to determine exactly what's wrong and what they're going to be able to do about it, and that's what these guys have been dealing with.

I was actually writing notes to myself -- blood pressure, heart rate, on the amount of gas that they're using.

NARRATOR: The operation has gone extremely well, and the patient is starting to stir.

His missing leg means he can't be released.

So, when he recovers, he'll given the best-possible life at the center.

But for animals deemed fully fit, the aim is always to get them back out in the wild.

Today, nine Sunda pangolins are going home.

♪♪ ♪♪ The team has driven for over 10 hours to a specially selected, remote jungle.

DIEKMANN: They must just not really know what's going on, but that second that they come out and they realize they're actually going back out into the wild, it's -- I mean, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

[ Laughter ] ♪♪ NARRATOR: To give the pangolins a fighting chance of evading poachers, the team is heading into the inaccessible heart of the forest.

♪♪ ♪♪ Pangolins are solitary, so the team must release the animals at different points throughout the jungle.

♪♪ ♪♪ As night falls, it's time for the first of the nine pangolins to taste freedom.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ DIEKMANN: I tell you, Thai, I would walk three times up a mountain just to see that.

VAN NGUYEN: Nice.

DIEKMANN: One down, eight to go.

NARRATOR: As the hours pass, one by one, the rest of the pangolins emerge and then vanish into the forest.

DIEKMANN: Well, I'm cold and I'm wet, I'm covered in mud and mosquito bites, and I've been pulling leeches off myself, but it was one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had in my life.

NARRATOR: For the team, it's been a very long night.

But these animals now have a second chance for a life in the wild.

As Maria leaves Vietnam, her thoughts turn to her beloved African pangolins.

To better understand their fate in this growing illegal trade, she's heading west.

♪♪ ♪♪ DIEKMANN: I must say, it's completely overwhelming -- the number of people, the number of cars, the colors, the signs.

It's very, very different than home.

♪♪ NARRATOR: In the last few years, Thailand has emerged as a key transit country for illegal wildlife contraband from Africa.

Thai authorities are cracking down hard on wildlife crime.

But despite these efforts, the problem is clearly escalating.

DR. OUITAVON: Come in.

NARRATOR: Dr. Kanita Ouitavon is showing Maria evidence from a recent raid.

DIEKMANN: 1,060 kilograms.

DR. OUITAVON: Yeah.

DIEKMANN: You found giant... DIEKMANN: And tree pangolins.

I mean, there are probably 50 to 100 pangolins in each of these bags.

DR. OUITAVON: Yeah.

DIEKMANN: If not more.

NARRATOR: Today, 80% of pangolin scales confiscated from the global black market are from African animals.

DIEKMANN: It's a lot of pangolins.

DR. OUITAVON: Yeah. A lot.

NARRATOR: Shaken, Maria's thoughts turn to home and Honey Bun.

[ Telephone rings ] STEVEN: Hello, Maria.

DIEKMANN: Hi, Steven! How are you?

STEVEN: Very well, very well. It's good to hear from you.

DIEKMANN: Tell me -- How's Honey Bun doing?

STEVEN: Honey Bun is really eating well.

Yesterday, she ate around 56 time.

DIEKMANN: Oh, just hearing your voice makes me want to come home right now.

STEVEN: Thank you very much. Goodbye.

-DIEKMANN: Okay, bye. -STEVEN: All right.

Let's go, Honey Bun. Honey Bun, come!

Come, let's go.

Let's go.

Oh, let's go, yes.

DIEKMANN: Oh, it was just so nice to hear Steven's voice.

STEVEN: Let's go.

Maria was just calling and greeting you.

Let's go now.

DIEKMANN: Yeah, it makes me want to get into a plane and just go home and see how everybody's doing myself.

♪♪ NARRATOR: But Maria won't go home just yet.

There is one more destination she must visit -- the end of the line for the majority of trafficked African pangolins.

In 2017, Chinese customs officials intercepted the largest illegal shipment of scales on record.

Pangolin scales are one of the oldest Traditional Chinese Medicines.

And even as recently as last year, they were listed by practitioners as a cure for the symptoms of cancer.

Scales from historic stockpiles can legally be prescribed in hospitals.

But as long as there is demand for pangolin products, there will be a black market.

DIEKMANN: You can't help but observe the fact that there is, you know, there's really, really ancient culture here, sort of in conjunction with this really, really modern culture.

I think if the change is going to come here, it's going to come through the younger people.

♪♪ NARRATOR: And that's why Maria has come to China -- to join forces with a highly influential young woman who's taking a bold approach to addressing the demand for pangolin products.

She's a Chinese megastar.

An actress, a model, and icon -- Angelababy.

[ Knocking on door ] -ANGELABABY: Hello. -DIEKMANN: Hi, Angela.

Nice to meet you.

ANGELABABY: Nice to meet you, Maria. Come in.

NARRATOR: With over 80 million online followers, she's been using her considerable public profile to seek help for pangolins.

[ Applause ] DIEKMANN: Angelababy's a perfect ambassador for pangolins.

She's hitting this whole-new, young generation.

People really love her, and she's very, very well-known on this continent.

♪♪ DIEKMANN: It's a great story, and it's literally Honey Bun's story.

So, the little pangolin that I have, that's exactly her story, and it happens over and over and over.

Yeah, let's see some pictures.

ANGELABABY: Wow, wow!

DIEKMANN: Yeah, that's a long tongue.

ANGELABABY: [ Gasps ] Wow.

DIEKMANN: Yeah, their tongue is almost as long as their body.

NARRATOR: Maria is keen to introduce Angelababy to Honey Bun.

ANGELABABY: Wow. How old is she?

DIEKMANN: She's actually about a year and eight months now.

ANGELABABY: A year and eight month.

DIEKMANN: Yeah.

ANGELABABY: Oh, so cute.

DIEKMANN: Look how they walk.

They walk almost like dinosaurs.

ANGELABABY: Yeah, cute.

Very slowly.

-DIEKMANN: Yeah. -ANGELABABY: I like this.

[ Maria laughs ] [ Angelababy smacks lips ] She's thinking.

DIEKMANN: Yeah.

ANGELABABY: 'Which way should I go?'

Oh, they're so cute.

♪♪ DIEKMANN: Angela's going to bring a totally different perspective to the entire campaign of saving pangolins.

Pangolins definitely need that high profile.

The rhino have gotten it, the elephant have gotten it, and pangolins have sort of been left behind.

♪♪ This journey has been phenomenal, but I'm ready to pack my bags again and get on that flight home.

♪♪ NARRATOR: But Maria's work is far from done.

-DIEKMANN: Hi, Brad. -BESTELINK: Maria.

DIEKMANN: My dog is the official greeter.

NARRATOR: Maria's meeting in China has resulted in an exciting development.

DIEKMANN: Oh, I'm so glad you're here.

NARRATOR: Angelababy is starring in a new charity campaign for pangolins to be rolled out across the globe, and she'll be joined by another very special leading lady -- Honey Bun.

DIEKMANN: If you think about all the major conservation efforts in the world, most of them have started because of great footage.

Or a classic picture.

I honestly believe in my heart that the only way we're going to save pangolins is to introduce them to the mass public.

NARRATOR: Renowned wildlife cameraman Brad Bestelink has come to film with Honey Bun.

DIEKMANN: You're going to see about the pace that she walks.

I mean... BESTELINK: Funny little tummy.

DIEKMANN: Yeah. [ Laughs ] Not many people get to see a pangolin tummy.

BESTELINK: She's quick here.

DIEKMANN: Yeah, she's real quick.

BESTELINK: She really moves.

DIEKMANN: I mean, she's hurtling down there.

♪♪ ♪♪ NARRATOR: Brad is ready to give Honey Bun her close up.

But that's easier said than done.

DIEKMANN: Stick with us.

♪♪ ♪♪ BESTELINK: It's a lot harder work than I thought.

You know, they move incredibly quickly through the bush, and you've got to really scratch around to keep up.

STEVEN: [ Laughs ] ♪♪ NARRATOR: It may be tricky work, but filming a pangolin so at ease is a privilege.

BESTELINK: I've spent the best part of 20 years in the bush.

I've seen three in my lifetime -- twice when I was filming, once when I was a child.

It's just great to spend a little bit of time with -- with a pangolin just getting on with its normal life.

You know, it's just so unusual, it's really special.

♪♪ NARRATOR: But it's Honey Bun's recent collaboration with Angelababy that could have the biggest impact of all.

The campaign has been launched online and viewed in China over 25 million times in just the first day.

[ Both chuckle ] Honey Bun may not know it... ...but she's now a global ambassador for her kind.

♪♪ But even as the campaign is making waves around the world day to day, life for this celebrity remains the same.

The seasons are changing.

Spring rains are on the way.

DIEKMANN: Oh, Honey Bun loves this time of year.

So, she's going to be going much deeper, she's going to be finally able to get into those ant eggs, which are full of nutrients.

It's actually really nice to anticipate how she's going to look in a couple of months.

She's going to gain some weight, and she's going to gain some length, and she's going to turn into a young adult.

NARRATOR: As Honey Bun grows up, she will reveal more precious secrets about her species.

But there will come a time for her to leave Maria and live as a wild animal.

DIEKMANN: In order to prepare her for the wild, we start pulling back, and it's not just a physical way of pulling back, it's also a mental way of pulling back.

I've got to start letting her go.

[ Birds chirping ] ♪♪ Hey, H.B., what are you doing?

She's actually digging a deep hole even deeper.

This is all really great preparation for her going back out into the wild.

As the sun starts to set, she's realizing she needs to prepare for the night.

If she were in the wild, she'd go to sleep here tonight.

She's growing up, and she's becoming more and more independent of me.

And, in a way, it's kind of sad, and in a way, it's really exciting.

So, you know, it's all about that day that I'm going to say, you know, 'Hey, babe, you're on your own.'

If the pangolin went extinct in the wild, I've failed, and if we're going to fail on that, then what else are we going to fail on?

Not on my watch.

Not on my watch.

[ Telephone rings ] [ Diekmann speaking native language ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪