By Joseph Castro
In early 2009, a man in St. Petersburg, Russia, uploaded a video onto YouTube in which his pet pygmy slow loris — a small, threatened Asian primate — gets tickled. The video quickly went viral, garnering millions of views and thousands of comments. But such videos of "cute" exotic species may be fueling the illegal pet trade of the animals, pushing them nearer to extinction, new research suggests.
Researchers analyzed the public's perception of slow lorises (Nycticebus) by perusing more than 12,000 YouTube comments posted over a three-year period in response to the tickling slow loris video. Viewers most frequently commented on how cute they thought the slow loris in the video was, but comments expressing a desire to own one of the animals — or even asking where to get one — came in a close second.
In fact, an average of one in 10 viewers who commented on the video said they wanted a slow loris pet, which suggests a direct link between the animal's online popularity and their illegal trade, researchers say. [The 10 Most Viral Videos Ever\
"I've been studying slow lorises for a long time and the video completely changed everything," said study lead author Anna Nekaris, a primatologist at Oxford Brookes University in the U.K. "Nobody knew what a loris was before the YouTube video, but now everybody knows them."
Slow lorises go viral
Slow lorises are nocturnal primates that live in the rainforests of a number of South and Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Once considered common, all eight species of slow lorises are now recognized as "threatened" — their numbers have dwindled significantly because of habitat loss and collection and hunting for the wildlife trade, traditional medicine and bushmeat. Though there are national laws in place to protect the slow loris in all of its native countries, those laws are rarely ever enforced, Nekaris told LiveScience. More....