Why You Shouldn’t Share That Cute Lemur Video

A viral video shows the creature demanding a back scratch. But it’s not as funny as you might think.

Two boys in Madagascar scratch the back of a habituated lemur. It’s illegal to keep the endangered animals as pets, and conservationists think that sharing videos like this harm the animals.


The ring-tailed lemur wants his back scratched. When the two small boys crouching near him stop, the habituated animal taps the spot, appearing to demand that the kids continue rubbing. This YouTube video, shot on the African island of Madagascar, went viral last week, making the rounds on Twitter, the TODAY Show, Mashable, and elsewhere.

It’s easy to understand the video’s popularity. With their plush fur and winsome eyes, the distant ape relatives are endearing creatures. And the video does seem funny at first glance—a bossy little animal demanding a back scratch isn’t something you see every day.

But to environmentalists, the video’s neither cute nor humorous. That’s because it’s missing crucial context showing the severe threats facing lemurs, says Kim Reuter, a conservation biologist in the Nairobi office of the nonprofit Conservation International. “All you see in the video is two adorable kids and an adorable lemur,” Reuter says, adding that viral videos stoke demand for these creatures from the wild.

Lemurs, found mainly on Madagascar, are disappearing in the dry forests they once populated. Ring-tailed lemurs and many of the other hundred-plus lemur species are endangered, mainly a result of habitat destruction but also the pet trade.

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