Study says loris endangered by online interest; Cleveland zoo reacts to research

CLEVELAND - Chloe Hamilton was traveling with her Spanish summer camp group when she happened upon the nocturnal section of the Cleveland Metropark Zoo Wednesday. Chloe fell in love with Ty, one of the zoo's pygmy slow lorises.

"It was really cute and you couldn't really see a lot because it was dark in there, but it had it had really big eyes and it was furry, and it was just... adorable," Chloe said.

The zoo's staff gave WEWS a tour of the loris exhibit to help get the word out of an ongoing problem for the eight Loris species found in south and southeast Asia. It's highlighted in a study by Dr. Anna Nekaris of Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom.

The study, "Tickled to Death: Analyzing Public Perceptions of 'Cute' Videos of Threatened Species (Slow Loris) on Web 2.0 Sites" contends online viewing of lorises as pets has fueled the black market's illegal pet trade industry.

Kym Gopp is Cleveland Metropark Zoo's associate conservation curator. She wants Clevelanders to be educated to the animal's plight in the wild. She said lorises do not make great pets and viral videos may show them looking tame with their arms raised for a belly tickle, but it's actually a defense mechanism.

"Being cuddly, lorises are all threatened in the wild," Gopp said. "The biggest threat to slow loris is removal from the wild for the pet trade and for traditional medicine as well. It's a really big problem partly because of that issue; they are very cute, nobody can deny that, but they belong in the wild, living in nature. And having them here in the zoo is really important for people to be able to see them and understand more about them and understand the fact that having them as pets isn't really best for the loris, it's actually illegal to collect loris."

Gopp also was quick to mention that the loris has a toxic bite. It uses a gland under its arm to mix with its saliva for defense purposes. Poachers have been known to remove their teeth in an effort to render them less lethal.

"It's kind of scary because sometimes they're really cute animals so people just take them for their own and it's not very nice, and not safe either," Chloe said.

For more information about the zoo's Loris exhibit go to: www.clevelandmetroparks.com

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