By Jeremy Hance
It all started with a video: in 2009 a Russian man uploaded a video of himself tickling his exotic pet (a pygmy slow loris) from Vietnam onto the hugely popular site YouTube. Since then the video has been viewed over half a million times. But a new study in the open source journal in PLoS ONE, finds that such YouTube videos have helped fuel a cruel, illegal trade that is putting some of the world's least-known primates at risk of extinction. Lorises are small, shy, and nocturnal primates that inhabit the forests of tropical Asia, but the existence of all eight species is currently imperiled by a booming illegal pet trade that has been aided by videos of lorises being tickled, holding tiny umbrellas, or doing other seemingly cute (but wholly unnatural) things.
"In Indonesia alone, where six species of loris occur, a minimum of 15,000 lorises are trafficked each year; this does not count the numbers that die before making it to markets," lead author Anna Nekaris, with Oxford Brookes University and founder of the slow loris-organization Little Fireface Project, told mongabay.com. "In Indochina, no figures are available, but slow lorises have often been the most frequently encountered mammal in markets. In both regions, however, sellers report declines, saying they are 'finished' in the wild."
Given the popularity of YouTube videos showing illegal pet lorises, Nekaris and her team decided to analyze how people responded to the videos through viewer comments. Selecting the video of that pygmy slow loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus) being tickled in Russia, the researchers made their way through 12,000 comments. Worryingly, they found that around 25 percent of people expressed a desire for slow loris "pet." Many comments were along the lines of, "where can I get one?"
But even beyond being illegal—slow lorises are protected in each of their range countries—the loris trade is problematic for a number of reasons. For one thing, slow lorises that end up in pet trade are not captive-bred but taken directly from the wild. More....