Cute Animal Videos on YouTube are Killing Cute Animals

We’ve all done it. We see a video online of an impossibly adorable and exotic creature, and it’s just too cute not to pass along to all our Facebook and Twitter friends. Did you realize that in many cases, helping these charming videos go viral indirectly supports the deadly global black market in illegal animal trafficking?

That’s right. Inadvertently, you might have been helping to kill these cute little creatures. You didn’t mean to, of course. After reading this story, chances are you won’t do it again.

The most striking example of this tragic phenomenon is a small primate called the pygmy slow loris. In 2009, a YouTube video showing a Russian owner tickling a sweet little slow loris named Sonya blazed its way around the Internet. You probably saw it.

Maybe your reaction was something like: “How cute! I’d love one of those as a pet!” A lot of people thought the same thing. The unfortunate result was that the worldwide demand for slow loris pets exploded.

There are eight species of slow lorises. Since 2007, all of them have been included on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means it is illegal to capture and sell them in international trade.

A study just published in the journal PLoS ONE called “Tickled to Death” took a closer look at the connection between viral videos of the slow loris and public demand for them as pets. The results of this study are disturbing. It determined that for many threatened species “rising demands in internet trade of live specimens has seen an increase in their harvesting from the wild, leading to near extinction of the species.”

Watch an ABC News story about the plight of the slow loris in this video:

Sadly, the path to becoming someone’s trophy pet is an illegal and brutal one. The heartbreaking truth is that these little primates are kidnapped, mutilated and forced to live a life that is wholly unnatural to their shy, noctural nature.

“Slow lorises are the world’s only venomous primates, so in hopes to keep them from biting, traders cruelly clip or rip out their teeth with pliers, wire cutters or nail clippers,” study leader Professor Anna Nekaris told “This is done in the open street with no anesthesia, resulting usually in slow painful death due to infection.” Without their teeth, rescued lorises can never be released back into the wild.

Poachers typically have to kill a slow loris mother, and sometimes entire family groups, in order to take away the babies for future sale. Many of these young lorises do not survive. The ones that do end up in crowded, cramped cages waiting to be sold in Asian roadside markets for as little as $20 a piece or smuggled out of Indonesia for international sale.

If they make it alive into a buyer’s home, slow lorises can expect a life entirely unlike their natural existence. Scientists aren’t even 100 percent sure what a proper loris diet requires, but most captive lorises end up eating rice and bananas, becoming clinically obese and unhealthy.

“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,” Nekaris told

Nekaris is a Professor in Anthropology and Primate Conservation at the Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom. She founded the Little Fireface Project in 1993 in an effort to save all loris species from extinction.

Nekaris believes the problem of viral videos of illegally trafficked animals might be significantly diminished if websites like YouTube allowed users to flag them as “illegal.”

“Currently, no Web 2.0 site (e.g. Facebook, YouTube) allows viewers to report that animal material is illegal,” Nekaris told “If this flagging option were available, YouTube could then either embed flagged videos with warnings about illegal pet trade, poaching, medicinal, ivory or fur trade (for example), or ideally remove the videos altogether, as they would videos portraying illegal arms, pornography or drug use.”

If you’d like to encourage YouTube to do the right thing, sign this petition asking YouTube to classify slow loris videos as animal abuse and remove them all from its site.

Related Stories:

Adorable Brand New Primate Species Already Disappearing Via Exotic Pet Shops

Exotic Pets: Bad for Animals and Humans

247 Animals, Some Very Rare, Found in Suitcase

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven11 months ago

thanks for the article.

jana dicarlo
Jana DiCarlo2 years ago

Good to know. I had no idea.

It is sad, that even a cute pet video can be twisted around to cause some animals to suffer somewhere. Is there no such thing anymore as pure innocent fun?

Lynn Carin
Lynn Carin2 years ago

Noted, Tweeted. Appreciate the story - thanks for sharing it. It's really something to THINK about. Sometimes, we don't stop to think about the issues that can be / are caused when we think we are doing something as innocent as watching 'cute' animals in a video. Most of us have seen tons on videos like this. Personally, I would never think about owning a wild creature. Laws prevent this, for the most part. Helping them, YES... but never 'own' them. Wild animals should be left in their own habitats - where they belong.

Lynn J.
Lynn Juozilaitis2 years ago

Signed & noted! I have to admit I love these cute videos. I had no idea of all the problems that they could cause. I never thought it was a good idea to own an endangered or exotic pet. They need to be in their natural habitats.
Thanks for posting this Susan

Heidi D.
Heidi D.2 years ago

who are the ignorant morons who voted "no" on this poll?

Susan Duncan
Susan Duncan2 years ago

While I am guilty of watching videos of these adorable critters, I have never had the "urge" to even consider adopting one as a "pet," a word I never use because it is condescending to all living beings. However, wild, untamed animals can only, sadly, be considered "pets." They are not companion animals like our beloved cats or dogs, they belong in their own habitats with their own kind, not displayed as some sort of bizarre living trophy. How many people can adequately meet the needs of these untamed critters? I don't think there is commercial canned slow loris food. How many vets are proficient in handling often exotic illnesses that may be common in the wild? There are plenty of homeless companion animals who would love a nice forever home. I bet the little wild ones would love to remain in nice familiar territory with members of their own species. Good plan for all.

Todd K, you have a myopic mindset. There are plenty of activists who address the human issues you cite. Perhaps you can find one of those boards on which to vent. Those of us concerned with animal welfare have our place as do those who choose other paths. There are enough people in the world, if we all follow our passions and contribute, think of what we can accomplish together to make the world a better place for ALL living beings. Let's fight the good fight and not try to dictate the paths and passions of others, agreed?

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B.2 years ago

And where do I see these videos? On Care 2 mostly. (sigh)

pam w.
pam w.2 years ago

Every time I see one of these films on YouTube or photos in magazines of Bush Babies, etc, I think of some simpering, ''oh, look how cool I am" would-be celebrity (think Paris Hilton) will soon appear with one under her arm!

Then, in no time at all, the animal will have been banished/sold/dumped/euthanized because it wasn't so ''cool'' after all!

Michael Jackson was disgusting for many reasons...not the least of which was having ''pet'' chimpanzees and an orangutan. What miserable lives these animals had! And what a dreadful example Michael set!

Janis K.
Janis K.2 years ago

Todd K
This is a story about animals, and the people who wrongly want them as pets. I did not read anything about people not caring about people.

Todd K.
Todd K.3 years ago

We're so horrified about "cute lil' animals"...and yet we allow our fellow man to starve, get kicked out of their homes by foreign bankers, and we could care less...until it happens to us.

I guess the distractions really are more important, aren't they?

"Save the whales...but the guy down the block? Screw him..." Right?