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, 8 (7), e69215

Tickled to Death: Analysing Public Perceptions of 'Cute' Videos of Threatened Species (Slow Lorises - Nycticebus Spp.) on Web 2.0 Sites

Tickled to Death: Analysing Public Perceptions of 'Cute' Videos of Threatened Species (Slow Lorises - Nycticebus Spp.) on Web 2.0 Sites

K Anne-Isola Nekaris et al. PLoS One.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2013;8(8). doi:10.1371/annotation/7afd7924-ca2b-4b9c-ac1b-2cc656b3bf42. Nekaris, By K Anne-Isola [corrected to Anne-Isola Nekaris, K]


Background: The internet is gaining importance in global wildlife trade and changing perceptions of threatened species. There is little data available to examine the impact that popular Web 2.0 sites play on public perceptions of threatened species. YouTube videos portraying wildlife allow us to quantify these perceptions.

Methodology/principal findings: Focussing on a group of threatened and globally protected primates, slow lorises, we quantify public attitudes towards wildlife conservation by analysing 12,411 comments and associated data posted on a viral YouTube video 'tickling slow loris' over a 33-months period. In the initial months a quarter of commentators indicated wanting a loris as a pet, but as facts about their conservation and ecology became more prevalent this dropped significantly. Endorsements, where people were directed to the site by celebrities, resulted mostly in numerous neutral responses with few links to conservation or awareness. Two conservation-related events, linked to Wikipedia and the airing of a television documentary, led to an increase in awareness, and ultimately to the removal of the analysed video.

Conclusions/significance: Slow loris videos that have gone viral have introduced these primates to a large cross-section of society that would not normally come into contact with them. Analyses of webometric data posted on the internet allow us quickly to gauge societal sentiments. We showed a clear temporal change in some views expressed but without an apparent increase in knowledge about the conservation plight of the species, or the illegal nature of slow loris trade. Celebrity endorsement of videos showing protected wildlife increases visits to such sites, but does not educate about conservation issues. The strong desire of commentators to express their want for one as a pet demonstrates the need for Web 2.0 sites to provide a mechanism via which illegal animal material can be identified and policed.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors note that one or more of the authors are employed by a commercial company (Sonicated LTD, Computer and Network Security Department, Swindon, UK). The employment of this individual (which is self-employment) does not alter the authors’ adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Number of comments made on a viral You Tube video
. The relationship between number of comments and time; the two peaks coincide with the uploading of a second viral video of a slow loris holding a tiny cocktail umbrella and the production shortly thereafter of a slow loris conservation page on Wikipedia (March 2011) and the broadcasting of a BBC Natural World film on slow loris conservation, The Jungle Gremlins of Java (January 2012).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Increasing awareness over time.
Indicated are the monthly proportion (3-monthly running mean) of commentators that mention specific facts about the slow loris biology or conservation status. Key: “teeth pulled out” refers to comments referring to the removal of slow loris' teeth in the illegal slow loris pet trade; “poisonous/venomous” refers to comments made about the venomous nature of the slow loris' bite and/or the species being poisonous; “traditional Asian medicine” refers to comments made referring to the use of slow lorises in (traditional) Asian medicine.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Comments on a viral YouTube video.
Indicated is the monthly proportion of commentators that indicate that they wanted a slow loris as pet and those that indicted that it is illegal to keep slow lorises as a pet and/or that slow lorises are globally threatened. The proportion of commentators wanting a loris decreased significantly over time (Pearson's Product Moment Correlation, n = 33, R2 = 44.6%, p<0.0001). The proportion of commentators reporting the loris to be illegal/endangered did not increase significantly over time (Pearson's Product Moment Correlation, n = 33, R2 = 9.4%, p<0.08).
Figure 4
Figure 4. Slow loris trade has many impacts.
Figure 4a shows a confiscation by Thai authorities of non-native pygmy slow loris (N. pygmaeus) en route for the illegal pet trade, which could potentially pose invasive species issues (Photo by Thai CITES Authority). Figure 4b shows a confiscation by Indonesian authorities of Sumatran slow lorises (N. coucang) en route to Java, all of which died, demonstrating that numbers at the end point are only an example of deaths that occur in trade (Photo by Dwi – WCS Sumatra).

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Grant support

This project was funded in part by grants to Nekaris from the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-084,, the Cleveland Zoo Asian Seed Fund (, Dierenpark Amersfoort (, and People's Trust for Endangered Species ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.