If you live in the United States, chances are that you’ve never seen a slow loris in person, and let’s hope it stays that way. The extremely adorable animals are native to the forests of east Asia but have become the focal point in a cruel international trafficking operation. Social media users have given rise to the “selfie tourism” phenomenon, and, unfortunately, slow lorises are a victim of the trend.

The unique animals are often snatched from their natural environments and sold online to people abroad (Japan is the number one destination) to be used as props in photographs and videos. Over the past quarter-century, the slow loris population of Java in Indonesia is thought to have declined by 80% due to the pet trade.

Popular videos and photos of slow lorises first started appearing online around 2009, and since then the animals have popped up all over social media, usually posing in some *seemingly* cute way. The problem, aside from taking an animal out of its native habitat, is that humans don’t know that much about slow lorises, and, as a result, the animals are actually suffering terribly.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Discovery

Slow lorises are not suited to be kept as pets for many reasons, including their venomous bite, their native tree gum diet which can’t be replicated, their sensitive eyes that are suited for nocturnal living, and the fact that they end up sitting in their own toxic urine when kept in cages or forced to wear diapers. Bottom line: these animals are not for human beings to use for their enjoyment – they belong in the forests.

Slow lorises are being sold as pets, but they are also being bought up by entrepreneurs who charge tourists to take their precious selfies with the animals. That’s where the “selfie tourism” part comes in. This year it was discovered that a number of the animals were being used as photo props at a bar in Turkey.

Luckily, groups like Tickling is Torture and The Little Fireface Project are doing their best to get the word out about how dangerous and cruel these practices are, and how the slow loris trade needs to be stamped out. If you see this kind of activity online, report it immediately – all five species of slow loris are either endangered or threatened, and it is illegal to sell them. They may look cute, but as pets these little guys go through living hell.

It’s up to us to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

h/t: Mashable