One Popular Animal Trend Is Having Major Impacts That People Didn’t Suspect

While browsing Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, you’re bound to come across some cute animal videos. And we’re not only talking cats and dogs, either: you might be entranced by a clip of an exotic pet eating fruit or something in someone’s suburban home. The warm, fuzzy feelings will have you dying for an exotic pet of your very own!

Despite our joy, we don’t think about the repercussions that come along with making these kinds of videos go viral in the first place. One particular internet clip opened up an unanticipated can of worms that could have a disastrous impact on the animal kingdom.

The drama all started when St. Petersburg, Russia, resident Dmitry Sergeyev uploaded a video to YouTube in 2009. The clip showed off his a pygmy slow loris, and as you could imagine, the footage of the Asian primate immediately attracted attention.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

People around the world watched Dmitry tickle his pet slow loris’ ribs, and viewers found it all so delightful. A few months after Dmitry posted his video, Wired uploaded his viral creation to its own YouTube channel, shining an even brighter spotlight.

Dmitry Sergeyev / YouTube

Though Wired removed the tickling video from its channel in February 2012, it had already garnered over nine million views and tens of thousands of comments by then. The public couldn’t help but be charmed by the whimsical content, unaware of the sinister truth behind the video.

Tilo Nadler

Because the pygmy slow loris is an endangered species, scientific researchers worried that positive reactions to the viral content would only aid in pushing the nocturnal primate into extinction. They pledged to dive deeper into this theory.

Akron Zoo

Researchers examined a whopping 12,000 YouTube comments posted over a three-year span on the viral slow loris tickling video, realizing that most of the comments pertained to its cuteness factor; but there were also a ton of people who mentioned their undying wish to own a slow loris of their own.

FluxFactory / Getty Images

An average of one in 10 YouTube comments expressed the want for a pet pygmy slow loris, which is alarming. But here’s the plain truth: there’s nothing “cute” about the illegal pet trade.

@Loveinthemud / Reddit

See, people may think they could give the alien-esque primate a happy home, but that’s just not the case… unless your home is located within the dense Asian rainforests, bamboo thickets, or evergreen forests. Experts weighed in.

@saudhunter / Instagram

“I’ve been studying slow lorises for a long time and the video completely changed everything,” stated the study’s lead author and a primatologist at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, Anna Nekaris.

Anna Nekaris

“Nobody knew what a loris was before the YouTube video, but now everybody knows them,” she continued, clearly disappointed. Due to habitat loss and hunting for the wildlife and bushmeat trade, the little primates have been disappearing from Earth for some time now.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

All eight species of slow lorises are considered “threatened.” Though the slow loris’ native countries have laws in place to protect them, they aren’t exactly strict. In fact, they’re rarely enforced, entirely defeating their purpose.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

This trend was bad enough before Dmitry’s viral video, but he attracted a new batch of customers ready to support the sinister illegal pet trade. Considering the video didn’t illustrate any conservation issues associated with the slow loris, most viewers were ignorant to the pressing matter at hand.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

Celebrity reposts only propelled the slow loris conversation further. According to comments that specifically named a celebrity, the study found 2,400 people viewed the video only after a celebrity shared it. If Kim Kardashian hypothetically posted a video of a baby tiger playing with a puppy, you’d likely watch it.

@KimKardashian / Twitter

“My initial reaction was one of despair. I thought this was the end for the slow loris because it was already dealing with a devastating local pet trade,” explained Anna Nekaris. The researchers’ study was published in the open-access journal, PLOS ONE, in September 2013, and it showed some unexpected data.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

There were two separate spikes in the number of comments that connected to slow loris-related events: one occurring in March 2011 after Anna and a colleague created a Wikipedia page dedicated to slow loris conservation, and the other occurring in January 2012 after the BBC aired a particular episode of its nature docuseries, Natural World.

BBC

The episode, “The Jungle Gremlins of Java,” highlighted the evils of slow loris trade. Slowly but surely, people became more aware of the rampant slow loris pet trade, detailing their newfound knowledge in the comment section of the godforsaken slow loris tickling video.

BBC

All of a sudden, it was as if the comment section was full of slow loris advocates and experts. People discussed the tragic fact that traders brutally snip the teeth of slow lorises, and that they’re the world’s only venomous primate. Yes, the teddy bear-like primate is venomous.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

It turns out that tickling slow lorises is “torture” for them, which makes Dmitry’s infamous video that much darker. “When a slow loris is tickled it raises its arms above its head, not because it is enjoying it but in an attempt to defend itself by accessing a venomous gland on the inside of its elbow,” the International Animal Rescue stated.

Dmitry Sergeyev / YouTube

“But the number of comments of people who want slow lorises always far outweighed the conservation comments,” Anna clarified. Whether or not it’s directly related to viral internet content, the illegal pet trade has gotten worse over the years, as there’s been an increase in international seizures, domestic market sightings, and YouTube home videos.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

“The slow loris video should have been taken down a long time ago because it’s illegal. By not removing the video but removing others, YouTube is telling the public that this illegal, multibillion dollar industry is OK,” Anna said, calling out YouTube’s moral compass. Yikes.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

Though the pygmy slow loris pet trade specifically is a huge problem, people will do anything to get their hands on just about any exotic furry friend with a cute face, no matter how dangerous, endangered, or expensive it may be. Selfish tendencies essentially fuel the illegal pet trade.

Dr Anna Nekaris / Facebook

In most cases, these illegally obtained exotic animals live in dirty cages and suffer serious mistreatment. But when a group of animal lovers caught wind of one rare animal being exploited, they quickly jumped into action.

ALERT Conservation

In late 2017, videos and images surfaced online of a 24-year-old man abusing a wild animal he was keeping as a pet. A number of activists contacted law enforcement to see if this man and his “pet” could be located.

thecleanlitterclub / Instagram

An investigation soon began, with authorities using the man’s posts to pinpoint his location. After weeks of searching, they tracked the man to an apartment in the French suburb of Noisy-le-Sec.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found the apartment deserted. However, when they explored further, they discovered a heartbreaking sight in the back room.

Pompiers de Paris / Facebook

There, huddled in the corner of a small cage, was a tiny lion cub. Judging by his size, this little big cat was no older than one year old.

The Dodo

But the saddest part of it all was the poor shape they found him in. The cub was severely emaciated, and the many cuts and bruises on his body confirmed the reports that the little guy had been severely abused.

The Dodo

Not too long after the bust, police officials managed to find and arrest the cub’s owner, who had bought the animal simply to show it off online. But with the cub’s abuser behind bars, what was next for the little lion?

The Dodo

After hearing the cub’s story, the animal rescue organizations Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche decided to take him into their care. With their help, the little lion was transferred to the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium, a rescue center known for rescuing and rehabilitating big cats.

Natuurhulpcentrum

As the cub began to acclimate to his new environment, animal rescuers gave him a strong name to fit his story of strength: King. And, boy, did he grow to fit his name!

The Dodo

But as King began to outgrow his surroundings, it became time to seek out a permanent home for the young lion. And so, the animal welfare organization Born Free started a campaign to move King to his ancestral home: Africa.

Travel Write

According to Born Free, their plan was to move King to their Big Cat Rescue Centre at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Here, King could frolic and play alongside other lions and lionesses that had been rescued.

Tour the Tropics

Once they had raised enough money to fund their mission, Born Free placed the now fully grown King in a cage ten times the size of the one he was first found in. It would be the last cage he’d ever be put in again.

Natuurhulpcentrum

On July 5th, 2018, King took his first ever plane ride to the London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. Poor King was so nervous during the flight!

The Dodo

After transferring onto another flight (which is no easy task for a human, let alone a thousand-pound lion), King was finally on his way to his homeland. One short plane ride later, and King had arrived in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Lion World Travel

The final leg of the trip was completed by truck, with King’s large cage being pulled behind it. Though the plane rides had put a strain on poor King, it would all be worth it in just a few hours.

Lion World Travel

Finally, after traveling a total 6,000 miles from Belgium to Africa, King arrived at his new home at the Shamwari Reserve. The Born Free team was nervous at first about how King would react to his new surroundings…

The Dodo

As King stepped out into the winter sunlight, the young lion began to playfully leap through the grass. It was the first time he had ever seen grass before, let alone touched it.

Lion World Travel

Before King could continue exploring he caught sight of his new playmates Jora and Black, who were rescued from cruelty at the hands of a circus. They greeted King with a roar that left everyone with goosebumps!

Shamwari Game Reserve

Officially welcomed into his kingdom, King took off into the brush to join his fellow lions. After a day of play, exploration, and a meal fit for, well, a king, of course, King took to the shade for a well-deserved, long-overdue rest.

Fiveprime

King remains at the Shamwari Reserve to this day, living in peace and freedom, as he should be. Still, there is work to be done if animal conservationists want to stop poor treatment of exotic animals.

Kuoni

Texas’ Rio Grande border is no stranger to smugglers, and over the years, border agents have seen their fair share of strange cargo. But in August 2018, some ‘cargo’ that tried to make it across the river was far more extreme than anyone was prepared for.

While out on patrol, two agents from Brownsville, Texas, spotted three individuals lingering on the Mexican side of the river. The trio tried to look inconspicuous, but the sharp-eyed agents saw right through their charade.

The officers approached, and as they did, the trio knew they’d been made. Caught red-handed trying to cross the border, the individuals high-tailed it back to Mexico, leaving their possessions behind.

Al Jazeera

It was a typical find for a border agent: water jugs, shoes, and a few hastily packed bags. But there was one piece of luggage that the officers found themselves returning to again and again — a black duffel.

Straight Blast Gym Buford

Unable to shake their suspicions, the agents unzipped the bag and tossed the flap open. One peek inside told them everything they needed to know about the attempted border crossing. This wasn’t a bid for a new start: it was a smuggling.

Laredo Morning Times

And what was it that was being smuggled? Well, none other than a tiger cub, likely just a few months old. The animal lay unconscious in the duffle, but, fortunately, it was alive.

Eagle Pass News Leader

Without a moment to lose, the agents grabbed the young tiger and carried him. They then made a b-line for the nearest town, hoping they weren’t too late to save the helpless cub.

The Boston Globe

Feeling that a veterinary hospital wouldn’t be equipped to care for such an animal, the officers took the cub to Brownsville’s Gladys Porter Zoo. Hopefully, they figured, the wildlife specialists there could nurse the baby tiger back to health.

ZooChat

The cub was out cold when the zoo’s medical team finally got him onto the exam table, and they feared that the smugglers might’ve drugged the animal to sedate him for the trip. Luckily, they could stabilize him, and the little guy soon came to.

NZ Herald

Not long after word of the cub’s discovery got out, Border Patrol communications director Irma Champa reported the tiger was “doing great” and was expected to make a full recovery. Once healed, the cub would be placed in a zoo.

But the attempted smuggling of tiger cubs like this one is something that the U.S., unfortunately, has become quite familiar with. All along the country’s southern border, exotic animal trafficking has become an epidemic over the last few decades.

Mercury News

“The illegal [wildlife] trade is pretty big business,” says Dan Crum, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent. “The U.S. is sometimes a destination and transit point, and the border along California and Mexico happens to be one of those flash points for trafficking.”

In fact, more than a quarter of the nearly 50,000 black market animal shipments seized at U.S. points of entry between 2005 and 2014 came from Latin America. Most of these shipments were comprised of birds and reptiles, but big cats like lions and tigers were also discovered.

Amazingly, the Brownsville recovery marked the first time in over 20 years that a live tiger had been discovered at this area of the border. Because tigers are relatively large, they’re much more difficult to smuggle — and worth that the much more to the buyer.

It’s also for this reason that tigers are smuggled primarily as cubs. Many wildlife experts believe that once a baby tiger has grown past a certain point, smugglers will simply dispose of them rather than bring them to market.

“By 16 weeks cubs are too big — they’re crawling and scratching and biting,” says Carole Baskin, founder of the Florida sanctuary Big Cat Rescue. “But there’s no legitimate secondary market for all those cubs that can’t be used any longer.”

This fear is especially prominent in Asia, where large numbers of adult tigers are killed every year to satisfy the demand for their teeth, bones, and other parts. A highly illegal practice, these killings are primarily responsible for the Asian tiger population’s significant drop to just 3,500.

Asian Correspondent

Surprisingly, the U.S. currently boasts the world’s largest tiger population at around 5,000, according to the World Wildlife Fund. However, the vast majority of these animals are born in captivity, not smuggled into the country.

But for every handful of tigers in zoos and sanctuaries, there are plenty of big cats being kept in unsavory conditions by private owners. Some are even showcased in cruel roadside attractions, where tourists can pay to cuddle and take pictures with them.

The Telegraph

Thankfully, measures have been taken across the country to put an end to the exploitation of animals. Following a 2017 sting dubbed “Operation Jungle Book,” 200 animals were rescued from this kind of abuse, including lizards, songbirds, and even a king cobra.

Business Insider

Yet while countries around the world are making a conscious effort to stop the trafficking of exotic animals, a large number still slip through the cracks. Even in a big city like Paris, exotic creatures can sometimes go undetected for months  – even years – at a time.

For instance, in late 2017, videos and images surfaced online of a 24-year-old man abusing a wild animal he was keeping as a pet. In response, a number of activists contacted law enforcement to see if this man and his “pet” could be located.

thecleanlitterclub / Instagram

An investigation soon began, with authorities using the man’s posts to pinpoint his location. After weeks of searching, they tracked the man to an apartment in the French suburb of Noisy-le-Sec.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, they found the apartment deserted. However, when they explored further, they discovered a heartbreaking sight in the back room.

Pompiers de Paris / Facebook

There, huddled in the corner of a small cage, was a tiny lion cub. Judging by his size, this little big cat was no older than one year old.

The Dodo

But the saddest part of it all was the poor shape they found him in. The cub was severely emaciated, and the many cuts and bruises on his body confirmed the reports that the little guy had been severely abused.

The Dodo

Not too long after the bust, police officials managed to find and arrest the cub’s owner, who had bought the animal simply to show it off online. But with the cub’s abuser behind bars, what was next for the little lion?

The Dodo

After hearing the cub’s story, the animal rescue organizations Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis and Refuge de l’Arche decided to take him into their care. With their help, the little lion was transferred to the Natuurhulpcentrum in Belgium, a rescue center known for rescuing and rehabilitating big cats.

Natuurhulpcentrum

As the cub began to acclimate to his new environment, animal rescuers gave him a strong name to fit his story of strength: King. And, boy, did he grow to fit his name!

The Dodo

But as King began to outgrow his surroundings, it became time to seek out a permanent home for the young lion. And so, the animal welfare organization Born Free started a campaign to move King to his ancestral home: Africa.

Travel Write

According to Born Free, their plan was to move King to their Big Cat Rescue Centre at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Here, King could frolic and play alongside other lions and lionesses that had been rescued.

Tour the Tropics

Once they had raised enough money to fund their mission, Born Free placed the now fully grown King in a cage ten times the size of the one he was first found in. It would be the last cage he’d ever be put in again.

Natuurhulpcentrum

On July 5th, 2018, King took his first ever plane ride to the London Heathrow airport under the care of Born Free’s expert team. Poor King was so nervous during the flight!

The Dodo

After transferring onto another flight (which is no easy task for a human, let alone a thousand-pound lion), King was finally on his way to his homeland. One short plane ride later, and King had arrived in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Lion World Travel

The final leg of the trip was completed by truck, with King’s large cage being pulled behind it. Though the plane rides had put a strain on poor King, it would all be worth it in just a few hours.

Lion World Travel

Finally, after traveling a total 6,000 miles from Belgium to Africa, King arrived at his new home at the Shamwari Reserve. The Born Free team was nervous at first about how King would react to his new surroundings…

The Dodo

As King stepped out into the winter sunlight, the young lion began to playfully leap through the grass. It was the first time he had ever seen grass before, let alone touched it.

Lion World Travel

Before King could continue exploring he caught sight of his new playmates Jora and Black, who were rescued from cruelty at the hands of a circus. They greeted King with a roar that left everyone with goosebumps!

Shamwari Game Reserve

Officially welcomed into his kingdom, King took off into the brush to join his fellow lions. After a day of play, exploration, and a meal fit for, well, a king, of course, King took to the shade for a well-deserved, long-overdue rest.

Fiveprime

King remains at the Shamwari Reserve to this day, living in peace and freedom, just as all animals should be allowed to do. Check out the video below to relive King’s incredible journey!

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