Viral photos and videos of cute but endangered animals could further decimate their population in the wild because this could fuel the global trade of threatened creatures, according to a new study.
For example, in 2009, a man from St. Petersburg, Russia uploaded footage to YouTube and Vimeo showing himself rubbing the belly of his adorable pygmy slow loris, a nocturnal primate endemic to South East Asia.
In a short amount of time, the video quickly became viral, attracting thousands of comments and millions of views. By February 2012, the footage on YouTube garnered 12,411 comments and 9,338,000 views before it was removed.
Researchers who examined the comments on the YouTube page discovered that the most common remark was about the animal’s cuteness, followed by a desire to own one. Some people even inquired where they can buy a pet slow loris.
“I’ve been studying slow lorises for a long time and the video completely changed everything,” said Anna Nekaris, the study’s lead author and primatologist at UK-based Oxford Brookes University
“Nobody knew what a loris was before the YouTube video, but now everybody knows them.”
In addition to being illegal, the selling of slow lorises is quite problematic as the animals are captured directly from the wild. The man in the video said that his pet was purchased from a nursery but experts doubt his claim. The animal is very difficult to breed even for zoos with skilled staff, added Nekaris.