A recent study on a viral YouTube video suggests that uploading videos of cute animals could actually be endangering them.
In early 2009, Russia’s Dmitry Sergeyev put up a clip of him tickling a pygmy slow loris, an endangered Asian primate. The video quickly attained millions of views of thousands of comments.
After studying the nature of these 12,000+ comments, Anna Nekaris of England’s Oxford Brookes University found that after the cuteness of the animal, viewers most frequently commented on a desire to get one of their own. The primatologist discovered that 1 in 10 comments asked how to obtain a slow loris, which suggests that the online popularity of the animal may have a direct link to its illegal trade.
Though Dmitry says he got his loris from a breeder, most loris’s are illegally snatched up from the wild before they are sold. Nekaris insists that the YouTube user lied about how he got his pet.
“Anyone who says they are breeding them are lying,” Nekaris told Live Science. “We have skilled zoos that can’t even breed them successfully.”
Nekaris said that the more YouTube videos we see featuring adorable but endangered animals like the loris, the more endangered species are being illegally swept up out of their homes and into the arms of traders.
“My initial reaction was one of despair,” she said of her reaction to the sight of the video. “I thought this was the end for the slow loris because it was already dealing with a devastating local pet trade.”
Slow lorises were a rare sight in a person’s home a few years ago. Now, Nekaris says, they are constantly paraded throughout the streets of several Asian countries, mainly Thailand.
She also said that the illegal pet trading of sloths and kinkajouhas has spiked as well, an increase she attributes primarily to YouTube’s exploitation of the animals and celebrities’ advocating for making the exotic species into pets.
Because trading and selling these animals is illegal, Nekaris said that all YouTube videos featuring any species as rare and threatened, like the loris, should be taken down because they are evidence of illegal activity.
“The slow loris video should have been taken down a long time ago because it’s illegal,” Nekaris said. “By not removing the video but removing others, YouTube is telling the public that this illegal, multibillion dollar industry is OK.”