Cute animal videos are hard to resist, which often makes them go viral quickly on sites like YouTube and Vimeo. However, according to a new study, these adorable videos could be placing endangered species in great jeopardy by perpetuating illegal wildlife trade.
You’ve probably seen this video:
It went viral on Vimeo back in 2009 and features a pygmy slow loris, a species that was designated as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora two years prior in 2007, reported The Guardian.
In the video, the big-eyed slow loris named Sonya looks as if she’s smiling while her owner tickles her belly. And perhaps this particular slow loris is happy. Yet, a newly released study entitled, “Tickled to Death: Analysing Public Perceptions of ‘Cute’ Videos of Threatened Species (Slow Lorises – Nycticebus spp.) on Web 2.0 Sites” conducted by Anna Nekaris, a primatologist at Oxford Brookes University in the U.K., among others suggests that species like the slow loris are being pushed closer to extinction because of these cute videos.
The study is based off of this very video of Sonya. Nekaris and her team of researchers analyzed video responses to the clip and how perceptions of slow lorises changed over time based on media coverage and the availability of conservation information.
Over a nearly three-year period, the study examined 12,411 comments posted in response to the video. Comments were wide-ranging yet those commenting on the “cuteness” of the slow loris were most common. Coming in second were comments by those wanting to own a slow loris as a pet—an average of one in 10 viewers made this type of comment, according to International Digital Times.
These type of comments are the most troublesome as they can potentially bring about an increase in illegal wildlife trade.
“If 25 percent of the 10 million viewers of the video are expressing a desire to have a loris as a pet, that is a huge number, even if only a very small proportion of those people actually take action on those urges,” Stephen Ross, a primatologist at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Illinois who was not involved with the study, told LiveScience. “These populations are precarious enough that any upswing in demand could have catastrophic consequences.
When celebrity shares of the video surfaced, traffic to the video increased, as did comments. Yet when conservation information about slow loris became available—including a Wikipedia page set up by Nekaris and her team along with a BBC broadcast about slow loris conservation, The Jungle Gremlins of Java—more comments focused on slow loris facts emerged, like how the species is potentially dangerous to humans due to their venomous nature. Unfortunately, responses by commenters desiring slow lorises as pets still prevailed over conversation ones.
Despite how cute these types of videos can be, the truth is that these animals are in grave danger and increasingly so. Slow lorises were once rare to see in the streets of Thailand back in 2009, yet now many can be seen there every night, reports LiveScience.
Moreover, slow lorises and other animals in the illegal wildlife trade often suffer greatly in transit and at the hands of vendors. It has been documented that some slow lorises being sold as pets have had their teeth pulled out completely or significantly cut down and often travel cramped in cages.
Nekaris’ study concludes stating, “The strong desire of those commenting on the sites to express their want for one as a pet demonstrates the need for web 2.0 sites to provide a mechanism via which illegal animal material can be identified and policed.”
What do you think—should websites regulate content featuring endangering animals? Do you believe cute animal videos are hurting endangered species? Leave your thoughts below!