We know about Dancing Bears and tigers or lions needing rescue from circuses, stories of large reptiles wrongly being held in small terrariums and overbred animals - but what about the Slow Loris? Do you know that millions of people have watched a video of this primate being tortured? Maybe you have too, ignorant of what you were seeing.
They are cute, with big round eyes peering at you from behind a tree trunk, their little hands and feet grabbing onto the tree and when they travel the forests at night; so cute you want to pick them up and cuddle them. Don't let their appearance fool you though! They are one of the only poisonous mammals in the world. They can take the toxin from the glands in their elbows into their mouths and kill with a toxic bite or lick their fur, spreading it all over their body as a defence from predators.
These aren't pet qualities! In order to make them into pets and sell them illegally on markets, clipping off their teeth with pliers and keeping them in cages.
The video showing a Slow Loris being tickled has had over five million views. Why? Because the animals reaction - in human eyes - looks like he is enjoying it: It raises its arms above its head as though it was fun. What is actually happening is a something completely different: It is trying to reach the venomous glands on the inside of its elbows to protect itself and if it still had teeth, it would bite.
A threat to the species
Home to the tropical and subtropical regions of South and South East Asia, Slow Lorises are shy, nocturnal animals. Poaching is one of the biggest threats the mammals face. To meet the demand for Slow Loris pets, they are being hunted and caught illegally, teeth clipped off without anaesthetics and sold as pets in markets or in the streets.
There are five species, the Bengal, Bornean, Pygmy, Greater and Javan Slow Loris. The latter is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, while the other four are vulnerable; It is due to the illegal wildlife trade - fuelled by the videos millions of people watch and share on the internet - that the species is now endangered and millions of animals need rescuing from the cruel environments they live in.
International Animal Rescue has started a campaign called Tickling Is Torture to raise awareness of the truth behind the Slow Loris tickling videos and explaining that they aren't enjoying the treatment but rather trying to protect themselves from this torture.
Primates as pets
Primates simply aren't pets. The RSPCA are running a campaign to ban primates being kept as pets. As social animals, they are unhappy being isolated from other animals and ripped away from their natural habitat.
Overall, the RSPCA has five principles for pet owners to ensure the welfare of their animals. Slow Loris have none of these freedoms when they are held as pets:
The first is the freedom from fear and distress, a simple freedom which is taken away when they are being tortured for the pleasure of their owner . They should have a freedom from hunger. While their food is usually a mix of fruit and vegetables, plants and insects, they are often fed rice balls and other human food which is unsuitable, leading to infections and obesity.
Thirdly, they don't have the freedom of comfort when shy nocturnal animals are taken from their natural environment and into busy, loud places with artificial light. The process of ripping or clipping their teeth, which often results in diseases, deprives them of their freedom from pain, injury and disease. And lastly, they are robbed of their freedom to express natural behaviour. A cage is not a home for an animal used to travelling long distances at night to find food. Their natural defence mechanisms are taken away from them and they are in a simply unsuitable environment.
By Claire Herbaux - Online Journalism Intern
If you want to help the endangered Slow Loris take a look at our Thailand Animal Rescue Program which works mainly with these primates as well as lots of other animals.
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