By Jason Bittel
In the jungles of southern Asia, there lives a little bundle of fur, fingers, and eyeballs known as the loris. Despite being the world’s only venomous primate, the loris is undeniably cute—in an E.T. meets Gizmo sort of way. But good looks can be a burden, and new research shows that this animal’s darling visage (which makes a perfect fit for social media) may be fueling its downfall via the illegal pet trade.
Perhaps you got your first look at the sweet face of a loris over the weekend, when pop singer Rihanna created a fuss in Thailand by Instagramming herself striking a pose with a slow loris on her shoulder. On Saturday night, authorities arrested two men who were running the illegal photo booth that Rihanna had visited and confiscated a pair of these protected primates.
My first encounter with a loris also happened via social media, on YouTube back in 2009. In the video I watched a pudgy, wide-eyed primate recline with its arms locked in the air while its owner tickled its belly. The loris’s name was Sonya, and she’s unfathomably cute. Below is a gif. (Normally, I’d show the whole video, but I don’t want to give the user more ad revenue.)
Before long, Sonya went viral. Celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Betty White tweeted the little loris to their followings and discussed Sonya on late night talk shows. More than 5 million people have watched her throw her hands into the air, which prompted comments from thousands proclaiming their newfound love for lorises and asking where they could get one.
Enter Anna Nekaris, the director of the Little Fireface Project and a professor of primate conservation at Oxford Brookes University. In a recent paper titled “Tickled to Death,” Nekaris and her co-authors sifted through more than 12,000 YouTube comments on the tickling video to see if they could identify any patterns that might shed light on the connection between lorises on the web and lorises in the black market. More....