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BREAKING - Wild animal "pets" on social media: a vicious cycle of suffering

Wild animals such as monkeys, tigers and lizards are being “psychologically and physically tortured” for likes and comments on social media. Animal protection experts, the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC), have located evidence of content creators abusing wild animals kept as pets, many of them endangered species, for online popularity.

The Asia for Animals SMAC Coalition, made up of 15 animal protection organizations, conducted research into the online trend in wildlife as pets, which it says is being fueled by social media. Between September 2021 and October 2022, SMACC recorded 840 videos from Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, depicting a wide range of wild animal species being kept as pets in people’s homes.

From spiders to monkeys, fishes to bears, SMACC identified at least 97 different species being kept as pets. SMACC confirmed that many of the animals depicted were endangered species such as long-tailed macaques and tigers, up to 65%, and some even critically endangered such as orangutans.

Such videos, which are very easy to find on social media platforms, show wild animals such as lion cubs wearing nappies, bushbabies dressed in baby clothes, monkeys fed bottles of milk, tigers being held on leads and other exotic animals being kept as pets. Users on these platforms often share this footage, commenting on how ‘cute’ the animals appear and enquiring on how to acquire one themselves.

Collectively, these 840 videos had been viewed 11,806,630,205 times.

In a new report “Wild animal "pets" on social media: a vicious cycle of suffering”, SMACC outlines how these videos normalize the keeping of wild species as pets, leading to an increase in their demand. This, in turn, has detrimental impacts on animal welfare and also fuels the trade in wild animals as pets, including endangered species. Social media has become a key driver in the trade in wild animals, with both legal and illegal trade taking place online and in communication apps such as WhatsApp. Research has shown how some species are seeing a decline in population numbers in the wild, in part due to the demand for the pet trade.

Viral trends, often exacerbated by celebrities or influencers, have led to widespread miseducation about the suitability of wild animals as pets. Viral videos showed slow lorises being tickled who raise their arms in response. Experts have pointed out that this may appear playful but is in fact a defensive behavior showing the animal is fearful. This content, mis-interpreted as harmless, also risks creating more demand for their capture and sale for the pet trade.

SMACC Lead Coordinator, Nicola O’Brien stated: