YouTube Videos Drive Nasty Trade in Slow Loris

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You've seen the video of the slow loris getting tickled, I'm sure. The little primate raises his arms above his head as a disembodied hand scratches under his armpits. I'll admit it. I love the slow loris video along with the six million other people who've watched it on YouTube. But now a story out in the Independent UK may make me reconsider the innocuousness of the funny video.

Apparently, demand for live slow loris is rising across the world, at least partially due to the immense popularity of the videos. And that doesn't bode well for the endangered species, Adam Sherwin reports:

The creature's new-found fame is now stoking demand among children to turn the wild animal into must-have living toys. But the primate is no pet.

Poachers steal infant lorises from their parents in the wild to sell at open-air markets in Indonesia, where they are traded for as little as £10. The export market is most lucrative in Japan, where lorises stolen to order sell for £3,500.

The trade is now expanding into the US and Europe, with illegally smuggled lorises reported in the United Kingdom. But many do not survive the journey. "The only reason the loris isn't biting the person holding it in the video is because it has had its teeth ripped out with pliers," said Chris Shepherd of Traffic Southeast Asia, which campaigns against the trade in primates.

One conservationist at Oxford was even calling for YouTube to take the slow loris videos down to help tamp down interest in the Indonesian animals.

Talk about a buzzkill: watching a video of a cute animal on the Internet may -- in some small way -- lead to it being ripped from its mother, abused, and sold on the global market.

I guess I'll have to stick with the donkey sanctuary webcam.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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