NORTH MIAMI, FLA. (WSVN) - A Florida International University researcher is using advanced technology to learn more about an elusive animal.

It is a mission used to help a wild species bounce back from the brink of extinction, as the secret life of a nearly extinct species got its first close-up.

“Basically, a small camera that we mount to an animal that gives the animal’s perspective of the world,” said Dr. Matthew Shirley, a researcher at FIU’s Tropical Conservation Institute.

A pangolin is a rare mammal found in Africa and Asia. They lead private lives, hidden away from humans.

They are also the world’s most illegally trafficked wild mammal.

Poachers prize their scales for meat and medicine. Those distinct scales are considered more valuable on the black market than rare rhino horns.

Dr. Shirley is leading an effort to get a new and first-ever look at the secretive scaly species by tracking them with cameras — something that has never been done before.

“We work in a rain forest, a very humid environment, so we couldn’t take just any old camera,” said Shirley. “Plus, the pangolins work in these really kind of dense forest habitats. We didn’t want them to get tangled on vines or whatever. It’s really low profile. It rides on the animal’s back.”

These “pango-cams” help FIU researchers to understand what these animals do — and where and how they do it — all in hopes of pinpointing precisely where they need protection the most.

“This is an animal that is highly threatened in the world.” said Shirley. “We as a global community can do something to ensure their future, if only we knew about them.”

The pangolins are nearly impossible to observe in the wild, making them a difficult species to protect. These cameras are not only capturing their lives, but hopefully saving them.

“Pangolins exist and they need our attention,” said Shirley.

The goal of this research is to get some protection from either government agencies or conservation groups in the near future.

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