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'Please don't eat my pangolin friend'

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 4:46 PM EDT, Sat June 7, 2014
Max Demers wrote a bizarre but awesome love song to the pangolin after reading a CNN story.
Max Demers wrote a bizarre but awesome love song to the pangolin after reading a CNN story.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Max Demers writes a song about the pangolin in response to CNN article
  • Song is a love letter to these scale-covered animals
  • Pangolin is thought to be the most trafficked mammal in the world
  • It's traded illegally for its scales, which are used in medicine; and for meat

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- It's a love song to a creepy, scale-covered mammal that kind of looks like the cross between a dinosaur and a pine cone.

And I kinda-sorta love it.

It's "My pangolin friend [official music video]," uploaded to YouTube by New York songwriter and actor Max Demers.

Demers, a 30-year-old waiter and self-described "starving artist," made the video in response to my Change the List story on pangolin trafficking in Southeast Asia.

The pangolin is thought to be the most trafficked mammal, by numbers, in the world. This unknown underdog is sold illegally and by the ton for its scales, which are used in bogus medicine, and for its meat, which is a super-high-end delicacy in Vietnam and China.

Demers read the story and, he told me in an e-mail, decided to write a semi-vulgar love song to this strange animal, which he'd never heard of before.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter
Inside the illegal wildlife trade

"There are a ton of animals out there in dire need of help" he told me, "but a lot of them have entire armies of activists fighting on their behalf. I loved the idea that I could have a small part (in) drawing some more attention to an animal that hasn't gotten enough of it."

Digital doc: Inside the pangolin trade

The result is charming and weird and offensive and awesome. The chorus -- which croons, "please don't eat myyyyy ... pang-o-lin friend" -- is seriously catchy. Then Demers writes about how the pangolin secretes gross-smelling stuff out of its anal glands -- which is true, sometimes -- and also about how people eat its fetuses to supposedly boost sex drive.

So, yeah. It gets a little weird, but it's for a good cause.

In Vietnam and Indonesia, where I went to report the story that inspired this song, the pangolin is both mysterious and valuable. Its scales, which are made of fingernail-type material, are supposed to help women lactate. A group meal of pangolin at a restaurant in Hanoi could run $2,000 -- partly because the meat is a status symbol.

Related: 7 ways to save the pangolin

So I applaud this effort to catch peoples' attention about a strange and shy little animal that desperately needs all of our help. I also am still just thrilled that so many of you donated a total of $17,000 to Education for Nature Vietnam, which is going to make a pangolin-focused PSA to air in that country because of your generosity.

Take a look at Demers' video (as well as this one from that "honey badger" guy), and read this lightly edited version of our e-mail convo below.

Oh -- and please please don't eat his pangolin friend.

Me: What do you like most about the pangolin?

Guy who makes pangolin music videos in his spare time: I am amazed by so many things about this animal, such as their gentle, almost friendly demeanor (like an ugly-cute version of my cat Sasha), their crazy long tongues that wreak terror on unsuspecting ant colonies, and their unbelievably versatile tails, used for things like hanging from tree branches and even walking on their hind legs. I'd have to say my favorite characteristic, though, is its defense mechanism of rolling into a tight ball to ward off predators. While researching, I found this amazing video online of a pangolin that withstood an attack by eight lions by rolling itself up into this tight little ball. After something like three hours, the lions finally gave up and the pangolin just sauntered off into the woods again. Unreal!

Me: How did you get interested in pangolins?

Pangolin guy: I've always been a lover of all things nature. I grew up spending summers at camp in New England, camping and hiking throughout the White Mountains; and in 2008 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. I'm an avid animal lover (presently going strong on my third attempt at vegetarianism!); but I am also an actor in New York City, and escaping the urban lifestyle can sometimes feel impossible.

Every once in a while, however, an opportunity comes along that allows me to combine the two lifestyles. A few months ago, that was the case when I was hired by maxanimal.com to write a humorous song about an animal to be featured on their website. I had no idea what to write about, so I started reading, a LOT. My friend Blaire Carson, who is featured in the video with me, and a regular host on maxanimal.com, sent me an email with loads of links to articles about animals, including one about a woman who keeps 200 sloths at her house, and another about giant rats. But I was instantly drawn to your article on CNN.com, "The Most Trafficked Animal You've Never Heard Of." It felt important, and the pangolin's struggle felt desperate. The deciding factor for me was the that I had never heard of the pangolin before. There are a ton of animals out there in dire need of help, but a lot of them have entire armies of activists fighting on their behalf. I loved the idea that I could have a small part (in) drawing some more attention to an animal that hasn't gotten enough of it.

Me: Tell about how you wrote the song?

Dude who sings about anal glands: This song came surprisingly easy. As per my assignment, the song had to be humorous, which was a little intimidating at first, for two reasons: 1. Being told to be funny SUCKS, and 2. The survival of a species is a serious subject, and I didn't want the real issue to be overshadowed by male anatomy references and poop jokes. The turning point was when I thought to write the song as a love letter to the pangolin. Once I embraced that idea, I was able to balance the the dirty jokes with genuine love and concern for this animal, and the punch lines felt somehow more poignant and less offensive.

Me: What's up with the format for the video -- where did you get the idea?

Our resident pangolin enthusiast: The video was shot at a studio in Brooklyn. I went in with the song, and the amazing team at maxanimal.com shot the video. Over the next couple of weeks, their editor, Grannell Knox, edited and sent out rough cuts, and we all weighed in on the best ways to visually entertain people while also preserving the integrity and message of the song. One challenging aspect was that it was nearly impossible to find high definition footage of pangolins that we could use on such a limited budget.

Me: Who's that in the video with you?

Guy from the video: My dear friend Blaire. She is a frequent host on the website, and recommended me to the team when they mentioned adding a musical aspect to the site.

Me: What's your favorite line for the song?

Indecisive songwriter: I feel like I HAVE to give two answers to this question: 1. "This little girl's got a heart of gold, and she'll love you just as long as she's alive." This line is the song. And 2. "Please don't eat my pangolin friend, it's cheaper to sit hookers on your face." I love this joke because it's true! The amount of money people pay to kill and eat this harmless and beautiful animal is absurd! And for what? False promises. You stand as much of a chance of getting an erection by chewing on your fingernails (as getting one from eating a pangolin, which is seen by relatively few people as an aphrodisiac.)

Me: What do you do when you're not making semi-vulgar videos about scale-covered mammals?

Possibly offended artiste: I am an actor and a musician. Trained in musical theatre (sic) at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and The New School in New York, I live the typical starving artist's life. I wait tables at Ellen's Stardust Diner to pay the bills; and when I'm not serving burgers and fries, I write music, audition and hit the stage any chance I get.

Me: Do you write other music?

Marketing-savvy musician: YES! Please check out my band, Astoria Boulevard, and our album This is Astoria Boulevard, available on iTunes, Spotify, CDBaby, and all that good stuff. I also have more tunes coming soon to YouTube and maxanimal.com.

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