Is cuteness dangerous for huggable, endangered animals?

Like all humans with a heart, I love cute animals. Nothing affirms my faith in life like a basket full of young furry things. I could spend hours on Cute Overload, literally squealing over the heart-melting cuteness. It’s embarrassing, I know. My heart really feels like it might break due to cuteness. But some say that for exotic animals prized as pets, cuteness could be their downfall.

For example, the other day, I saw a YouTube video that challenged all previous held records of cuteness. It’s a video of a slow loris – a small, sluggishly moving Asian primate, which is endangered. With its big eyes and tiny ears, it looks innocent and adorable. In the video, the slow loris seems to enjoy getting tickled on a bed. Its arms and face are raised up, and when the tickling stops, it looks down with disappointment at its furry belly.

Watch it here.

I watched this at least three times in a row It has almost 2 million views on YouTube. Many commenters proclaim, “I want one!!!!” and ask where they can buy a slow loris.

Looking for more information about the species as pets, I quickly found out that trading these animals internationally is banned by the UN. However, according to a Monga Bay article, this practice continues. Because they are so slow, they’re easy to catch. If an infant is found with a mother, the adult is often killed, and the soon-to-be pet’s teeth are pulled out. Many can die from the stress of the new situation. Researchers who study the slow loris say that the videos and misinformation spread by YouTube can perpetuate this illegal pet trade,

The owner of Sonya, the tickle loving slow loris, says on his YouTube channel that owning a slow loris is legal in Russia, where he lives, and he bought his pet from a “slow loris nursery.” There’s an active debate on in the comments, with some commenters cooing that Sonya looks happy in her human home, and some arguing that the animal is endangered and the pet treatment is “cruel” – perhaps it is “tickle torture.”

The biggest threat to the slow loris is not the pet trade – it’s habitat destruction. Their native forests are being slashed and burned. Which means the slow loris’ grip on survival is already precarious – and being marketed by YouTube as cute pets could eventually be a nail in the species’ coffin.

It’s likely that if the slow loris wasn’t so darn cute, we never would have heard about it. It wouldn’t have made us stop and wonder at our planet’s incredible biodiversity, and lead us to learn more about the challenges facing endangered species. But what is the value of human awareness, versus the consequences for the species itself?

(Visit the Ugly Endangered Things blog to find out that ugly animals are endangered, too!)

Lindsay Patterson