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29Jul2013

The power of YouTube in influencing public opinions & Slow Loris conservation

Millions of people watching YouTube videos of slow lorises may not have realised that they are indirectly responsible for the demise of one of the world’s rarest primates and since 2007 have been listed on Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The illegal trade in slow lorises, fuelled by their demand as pets in Asia and elsewhere, appears to be enhanced by people watching the cuddly primates on numerous YouTube videos.

One of the most viral YouTube videos is that of Sonya, the tickled slow loris.  The video shows a clinically obese pygmy slow loris from Vietnam being tickled on the bed of its owner in a flat in St Petersburg, Russia. Holding its arms up in the air, the video has been watched by millions of viewers since its posting in February 2009 on Vimeo.com.  In June 2009 the same video was uploaded onto You Tube by wired.com and this became the main site where the video was viewed.

Researchers from Oxford lead by Dr K.A.I Nekaris, leading expert on lorises, looked at links between the presence of slow lorises on internet videos and the perception of the public viewing them. The study, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, analysed over 12,000 comments posted over a three-year period in response to the tickling slow loris video.

A key media event that occurred during the lifetime of Sonya slow loris video was Icon Films’ production for the BBC Natural World ‘Jungle Gremlins of Java’ which aired on BBC 2 on January 25th 2012.  This one hour film which focuses on the ecology and conservation of slow lorises not only reinforced the threat they are under but also contained gripping scenes of slow lorises being exploited to the pet trade.  After its airing 13.3% of the comments on the video mentioned the documentary and on 9th February 2012, wired.com removed the ‘Tickling slow loris’ video after nearly three years. 

Click here to read the full paper In Plos One “Tickled to death: Analysing public perceptions of ‘cute’ videos of threatened species (slow lorises –Nycticebus spp.) on Web 2.0 sites” by KAI Nekaris et al. 

 

 

 

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