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Should YouTube Ban Videos of the Adorable but Endangered Slow Loris?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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slow loris Thai marketLike hundreds of thousands of other people, my first encounter with a slow loris occurred online when I watched the now-famous 57-second video of one of these adorable primates being tickled and throwing up its arms in apparent glee. That video has been viewed more than nine million times since it was posted in June 2009.

But some conservationists argue that videos like this create a false impression of the slow loris in viewers’ minds, and in the process fuel the illegal pet trade that brutally mangles the tiny creatures and puts them at risk of extinction in the wild.

On January 25 the BBC aired a documentary called Jungle Gremlins of Java (viewable here if you live in the U.K.) that examined the illegal pet trade in Jakarta, Indonesia, where slow lorises are available in Indonesian markets for as little as $20. They await their fate in tiny cages after having their front teeth and venomous elbow patches painfully clipped off with pliers, nail clippers or wire cutters. (Lorises are the world’s only venomous primates.) Many of the animals die shortly after being sold, as the removal of their teeth can hamper their ability to eat.

The documentary’s host, Oxford Brookes University anthropologist Anna Nekaris, told BBC News that lorises rescued from the pet trade can never be reintroduced into the wild because they have no teeth and can’t fend for themselves.

There are five slow loris species, along with six species of slender lorises. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) limits the sale of all slender lorises (from the genus Loris) and bans trade in two of the three loris species from the genus Nycticebus (the Bengal slow loris, N. bengalensis, and the pygmy slow loris, N. pygmaeus). The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species only lists two species as “endangered,” but classifies the rest as “vulnerable to extinction” with declining populations.

slow loris cagedAccording to the International Animal Rescue Web site, “Thousands of slow lorises are poached from the wild and illegally sold as pets or for use in traditional medicine. Domestic and international trade takes place in various ways, from open selling of slow lorises on roadsides to smuggling them in poorly ventilated, overcrowded cages. In Indonesia slow lorises are sold on the street or in traditional animal markets as well as in city malls. Although both Indonesian and international laws ban the trade in slow lorises, the illegal wildlife trade is flourishing.”

In response to the documentary, the organization International Animal Rescue Indonesia has posted an online petition asking YouTube to remove clips of captive lorises.

“Videos portraying the slow loris as a cute, furry pet increase the demand for slow lorises, fueling the trade,” the petition reads. “Slow loris behaviors, which are caused by stress or fear, are misinterpreted as funny. YouTube has many slow loris videos on the Web site which show the slow loris as a pet, some of which have been watched millions of times. Despite requests to take these videos down, YouTube refuses to see the animal suffering in the slow loris clips.”

Nekaris has been asking YouTube to remove the slow loris videos for the last few years. “Lorises are…traded openly in Indonesian markets and the YouTube clips only increase the demand,” she told The Independent in March 2011. “Tackling this trade should be an urgent priority for wildlife-enforcement agencies. The penalty should be greater than simply confiscation of the animal.” YouTube responded, saying that their community guidelines prohibit animal abuse, and videos that are found to violate that guideline are removed “usually in under an hour.”

Nekaris told the conservation news site in 2009 that lorises appear docile in these videos because “it is part of their defense mechanism—to be still and silent” when held and otherwise threatened. That’s also one of the reasons why it is so easy for poachers to grab the animals from their wild habitats. “The infants are particularly defenseless and easy to catch,” she said. “Any hunter going into the forest will just grab a loris if he sees it.”

The pet trade isn’t the only reason why lorises are endangered. As I wrote in 2010, they are also used in traditional Asian medicine to “treat” conditions such as leprosy, heal broken bones and ward off the “evil eye.” Of course, none of these purported medical benefits have any grounding in science. All lorises are also threatened by habitat loss.

So what do you think? Should YouTube remove these videos because they harm wildlife, similar to the reasons why eBay banned the sale of ivory, or should they be allowed to stand on the grounds of freedom of expression?

Photo 1: Slow loris for sale in a Thailand market, by “megadem” via Flickr. Photo 2: Slow loris at a market in Malaysia by Michael Whitehead via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. kassmarchant 6:49 pm 01/27/2012

    After seeing the documentary Jungle Gremlins of Java last night I believe that videos such as those posted on You Tube showing slow lorises should be banned. Showing these videos gives people the wrong impression they may look cute and a great pet to have but a vast number of people who do purchase them will not have done any research on these animals. More importantly is the fact that a lot of people who buy them do not see the appalling conditions and cruelty that slow lorises suffer at the hands of the traders or the large number that die before they are even sold. We have allowed so many species to become extinct, is it not about time, knowing what we do that we try to stop it continuing

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  2. 2. Luna_the_cat 7:19 pm 01/27/2012

    Yes, I think the videos should be banned, for the same reason that other videos of deliberate abuse are banned or taken down: there are things that will inspire copycats, and this is a bad thing.

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  3. 3. kaufmans123 4:02 am 01/28/2012

    I watched the video on ‘You Tube’ and I saw Anna’a amazing documentary and yes, ‘You Tube’ should remove it. Not only that, but they should replace it with Anna’s film for all to view. Why? More eloquent words than I could write have already been written.
    ‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not our brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’
    - Henry Beston, ‘The Outermost House’

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  4. 4. Melissa S 4:30 am 01/28/2012

    Hahahaha, BANNED? I love how people think they can just police the internet because they saw some emotional documentary and decided to care about one animal. And I thought it was bad enough that several pets are being banned. I’m sorry, that is ridiculous and not at all justified. The videos do not violate Youtube’s user agreement and removing them would be craziness. If anything needs to be banned it’s the several horrific animal cruelty that I keep being plagued to view.

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  5. 5. kassmarchant 6:06 am 01/28/2012

    If you haven’t seen the documentary I suggest you do because it not only highlighted the plight of the slow loris but the appalling conditions and exploitation of both domestic and exotic animals and birds being sold and the numbers of animals and birds that die before they are sold. The Jarvan loris is listed as one of the top 25 most endangered primates these videos are helping to fuel the trade in lorises. May I also suggest that readers visit the little fire face project website to find out more about the plight of the slow loris.

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  6. 6. SandJ11 7:50 am 01/28/2012

    Although I am against the policing of the internet, I believe these videos should either be banned or in some way marked clearly as potentially contributing to the suffering and extinction of the slow loris. I support Anna Nekaris and hope that something can be done, especially about the appalling conditions these and other animals are suffering in illegal pet trade markets.

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  7. 7. CuriousBadger123 7:57 am 01/28/2012

    Yes I think they should be banned because they display an unrealistic image on what it is like to have a wild animal, such as a slow loris as a pet. People who may not be aware of the illegal trade in these animals and their near extinction in the wild, might see these videos and be encouraged to try and have one as a pet; you only have to look at the comments under these videos to see that. They are fueling a demand in exotic pets and unfortunatly plenty of people are only to willing to try and cash in on that demand by taking slow lorises from the wild and selling them. I have no problem with videos of slow lorises on you tube, just as long as they show the animal in it’s natural habitat, not somebodies bedroom. If You Tube will not take these videos down then people who post them should be forced to make people aware of the illegal trade in slow lorises and that they should not be kept as pets.

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  8. 8. VNijman 10:18 am 01/28/2012

    Just to add to the debate

    It is the genus Nycticebus that is included on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) precluding all international trade of all species of slow loris. Thus irrespective of taxonomic arrangement (3 species, or 4 or 5) no species of slow lorises is allowed to be traded internationally and this is not restricted to just the Bengal and pygmy slow loris as stated in the article.

    All species of slow loris, in each and every country where they occur in the wild, are protected by national law(s) and all slow loris range countries are Party to CITES. Hence, there is not a single range country where it is legal to keep a slow loris as a pet (or to catch them to be exported as pets). To state the obvious, this includes Vietnam, Cambodia, China and Laos, countries where the pygmy slow loris (like the one seen in the video) occurs.

    Vincent Nijman

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  9. 9. TobyNSaunders 1:55 pm 01/28/2012

    To answer the question of banning the videos, we should look at it in a more understandable context: the consciousness of lorises is like that of young humans, so, if young humans (in a state of arrested development, so they’re identical to lorises except superficially) were captured, abused & sold as products & then filmed, would those films be okay? It, really obviously, is unethical to hold slaves, & filming them for entertainment is too: YouTube would be taking a highly ethical & commendable stance to ban the vids while giving a thorough explanation of why slavery & abuse is bad.

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  10. 10. Bops 3:02 pm 01/28/2012

    It’s probably better to see and be able to do something about the abuse.

    A title that notes that these videos should either be banned or in some way marked clearly as potentially contributing to the suffering and extinction of the slow loris. Maybe better.

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  11. 11. scientific earthling 5:53 pm 01/28/2012

    Want to save the planet and its biodiversity?

    Exterminate the Homo sapien.

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  12. 12. Nag nostic 7:19 am 01/30/2012

    I never cease to be amazed at Liberal behavior.
    They’re all about bans, control and censorship – not what one might expect, given their name.

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  13. 13. JDoors 10:57 am 01/30/2012

    If YouTube cannot discern abuse then no, they should not ban entire topics “just in case.” That is preposterous.

    The concept that a YouTube video is the deciding factor in some moron obtaining an _illegal_ pet is also preposterous.

    I’m against what I call the “Disney-fication” of animals, where children are indoctrinated from an early age to believe that wild animals are cuddly and human-like, but calling for a ban on Disney movies would be _equally_ preposterous.

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  14. 14. ElaineBrown 6:38 pm 01/30/2012

    Yes, I believe these videos showing Slow Loris as pets which people are mistaking these animals as liking what the owners are doing, instead of what’s really going on, fear and defensive reactions, should be immeadiately taken off YouTube. YouTube states that it will not show videos of animal abuse, and these are primary examples of it. Plus that these misinterptations are fueling people to go out and try to get these animals as pets, and not only is that allowed under law, but many of the Slow Loris end up either losing their lives or becoming badly tramuatized and crippled because they don’t recieve proper nutrition and sun light. No wild animals should be retained as pets. They must be free to live the way they are supposed to. I’d like to know why, when being asked for several years to remove these misleading videos, YouTube has left them on. Please take them off right away, the same way you would with videos showing other types of abuse, such as bear bsiting or dog fights.

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  15. 15. ElaineBrown 6:43 pm 01/30/2012

    Sorry, that should “NOT allowed under law, it is an illegal activity…”

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  16. 16. jonhuie 9:49 pm 01/30/2012

    Censorship sets a VERY dangerous precedent. Once a precedent for censorship is set, imagine what could be censored next. Suppose the powers-that-be decided that information about contraception should be censored. Or that videos about conditions in slaughter houses would offend sensibilities and should be censored. Or suppose videos on [insert your favorite controversial cause] were censored.

    Don’t advocate censorship of anything, unless you are willing to have this very dangerous weapon used against you and everything you believe in.

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  17. 17. jonhuie 9:55 pm 01/30/2012

    Nag nostic: True Liberals/Progressives are adamantly against any form of censorship. What you are seeing in these comments is not Liberal.

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  18. 18. bbremner 11:57 pm 01/30/2012

    I think that attempting to ban such video’s is a poor idea. Free Speech, attempts to enforce such efforts, attempts to enforce our ideas/laws etc. on other countries. All of these things make it unworkable.

    However — I do have a recommendation for all animal species. Declare them “entities” in the legal sense of “owning” their own names. Let “them” meaning their legal representative (ex. The Slow Lorax Trust) have copyright authority for their name and simply license the use of that name for any commercial use, ie. if they make money in association with the name.

    Athletic teams like Bears, Cougars, Eagles, etc. could pay a small fee for the use of the name as well as other products such as sweat shirts. I am sure that others could find some way to use fees for names like the Vikings, Vandals, Seahawks (Sons of Norway anyone?) The Stanford Cardinal and those celebrating some mythical beast are a little problematical. I can just hear those on Wall Street scream when it comes time to collect for the Bull and the Bear.

    The point is that these are valuable names and just because they are not human doesn’t necessarily doesn’t mean that they should be paid for their use. Perhaps if the Golden Bear of California would have had some support it would not now be extinct.

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  19. 19. Cerebris 1:28 am 01/31/2012

    Sad as it may be, we will lose the slow loris to extinction just as we recently did the western black rhinoceros. We can sit in front of our computer screens all day and debate the banning of video’s till we are blue in our faces, it will not change the fact that we as humans exploit our environment all over, be it for resources or entertainment. And we will not stop until it – and we – are gone.

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  20. 20. bongobimbo 11:27 am 01/31/2012

    I am a lifelong liberal, and therefore I believe it’s dangerous to censor the net. That’s a reactionary thing. I think if these films were shown with running commentary on the animal’s potential extinction, a list of all species in its primate family that are internationally protected, and a warning of the depredations from pet poachers–plus a link to see the documentary “Jungle Gremlins” and a recommendation to watch it–that would work with all except with the dumbest and evillest sociopaths, who are not going to be charmed by a “cute” video anyhow. Set up an action site and I’ll sign that–but I won’t sign anything to demand censorship.

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  21. 21. beketaten 10:48 am 03/31/2012

    Does no one see the inherent logical fallacies of these arguments? First of all, there is a loris trade because the people selling them are the ones creating the demand. They are making them available, and poachers should be targeted, not videos of people who bought a loris that would have died if no one had taken it in as a pet. The anthropologist in the article said it herself that they cannot be re-introduced into the wild. So if there’s really this much habitat loss and horrific backwards “folk medicine” practices on the part of the lowest classes of people in these parts of the world, then trying to keep them alive in the wild is a losing proposition. The only way to preserve an animal which is this threatened, is to dole out licences for people to own and raise lorises under the proper conditions. Also, even if their defense mechanisms are to sometimes appear docile, then how can you really tell if they’re actually being stressed out by something or not? Sometimes docility means happiness, too, and I’ve yet to hear of a mammal that is not capable of enjoying being caressed, so how on earth do you know unless you’re a loris? Lorises kept under sanctioned captivity can develop affectionate relationships with their caretakers, and I believe this is a situation that should be allowed to occur with state consent in many countries, and for which a lack of proper adherence should be severely punished, if the caretakers do not live up to their responsibilities; there could be caseworkers to monitor the animals’ condition. Additionally, docility is hardly a loris’s only defense mechanism. They are widely known to bite, with a lick of venom to do so. Even if a loris has been de-fanged, I can’t think of a meaningful reason that this instinct, in the form of an ~attempt~ to bite, would not be preserved. Therefore, I think much of this article is alarmist, misleading, and non-constructive to the realistic preservation of the noble Loris.

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