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Tortured, Not Tickled

Slow Loris Outreach Week highlights the dangers of sharing misinformation on social

Social media has vastly changed the way we communicate and interpret the world around us. Viral videos, photos, and memes have become their own vernacular, and people are consuming more online content than ever.

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It goes without saying that this powerful medium can be used both positively and negatively; the slow loris is an example of both.

The slow loris is a small, nocturnal prosimian distantly related to the lemurs of Madagascar. Slow lorises live in the forests and bamboo groves of Southeast Asia. They play an important ecological role in these wild habitats: eating insects, flowers, nectar and tree sap and sometimes even small animals. Slow lorises are important seed dispersers and night time pollinators.

All eight species of slow loris are found in Asia and are threatened with extinction, with IUCN classifications ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered.

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Unfortunately, social media is contributing to this decline and putting their survival in jeopardy. Since this petite, round-eyed primate is undeniably cute, videos and photos of lorises as “pets” or photo props have gone viral on social media. The content of these photos and videos is problematic, showing slow lorises that have been removed from the wild and are suffering in conditions that do not support the wellbeing of this highly specialized and sensitive nocturnal animal.

Slow lorises are the only venomous primate in the world, and their bite can kill a human. Before it bites, a slow loris will raise its arms above its head in order to mix its saliva with venom secreted from its underarm glands. In viral videos, a slow loris raising its arms when approached by a person could look like its being tickled or enjoying the attention. But in fact, the opposite is true. A loris with its arms raised is terrified and attempting to defend itself. Slow loris videos have circulated the internet, and their popularity has only encouraged them to proliferate. In fact, a quick Google search of “slow loris tickle video” pops up more than 27,000 video links.

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Unfortunately, content spreads so quickly that few people take a moment to check facts and sources or seek out the truth behind what they see. Posting, sharing or “liking” these types of videos causes significant harm to the welfare of these slow lorises, and threatens populations of these species by encouraging the illegal trade of slow lorises.

It couldn’t be more important that we avoid and report online content that features lorises in harmful situations, and send the message that this type of content is not welcome in our social media feeds.

In addition to viral videos, lorises are commonly used as photo props for tourists in parts of Asia. These animals are terribly stressed, malnourished and often very sick. The loris’s teeth are often clipped or pulled out to reduce the risk of a venomous bite. Posing with a loris for a travel photo only makes one look ignorant, not worldly, and continues to fuel this cruel and unsustainable trade that harvests lorises from the wild to be displayed and sold in markets.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo partners with the Little Fireface Project, based in Java, Indonesia, dedicated to “saving the slow loris via ecology, education, and empowerment.” LFP is headed by Anna Nekaris, and has conducted first-of-its-kind research and monitoring of slow loris, as well as impactful, community-based conservation initiatives and global outreach to address slow loris trade.

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Wondering how you can take action to save slow lorises?

Report abusive content online. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms offer the option to report inappropriate content. Let them know that these videos depict animal abuse, and support illegal activity. Visit the Little Fireface Project’s YouTube page for loris videos that you can trust as safe to view. Share these wonderful videos and use them to spread the truth about what is really behind the slow loris trade and those harmful viral videos.

Visit the pygmy slow lorises that live in the Primate, Cats & Aquatics building here at the Zoo and observe their peculiarly cute and amazing behaviors.

October 14-20, 2019 is Slow Loris Outreach Week (get it? S.L.O.W.), so join us in advocating for the protection of these prosimians by sharing this infographic with your friends and family – let’s use social media and create viral content to do good and spread the truth – together we can help protect these amazing animals!

Slow loris photos courtesy of the Little Fireface Project.

This blog post was updated 10/7/2019.

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