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  • Writer's pictureDr Mark J Tenenbaum

Tickling is Torture

Have you ever seen the massive, enchanting brown eyes of a slow loris? Their gentle gaze shifts at a glacial pace and their limbs reach out to branches just as slowly. ​​

A slow loris in the wild - Andrew Walmsley (Kyodo)

If you have ever seen one of these little creatures, chances are it was a viral video on social media of a loris being ‘tickled’. The slow lorises exasperated expression in these videos with their arms outstretched couldn’t be further from the joy and humour we associate with tickling.

The animal is in pure terror and is gathering deadly venom from glands in its elbow – a survival instinct it engages when it feels particularly threatened. ​​

A screenshot of a terrified loris being 'tickled'


These precious animals are ripped out of trees by poachers in the jungles of Indonesia, and illegally trafficked all over the world to people that think they make cute pets.

Traffickers of these animals clip their teeth or rip them out without anaesthesia to make them ‘harmless’ and ship them off in appalling conditions, in which many of them die of malnutrition and the stress of transport. ​​

A loris having its teeth painfully removed - photo from International Animal Rescue

Lorises are completely incompatible with being kept as pets. In the wild they cover vast expanses of the rainforest during the the night with their large eyes well adapted to nocturnal lifestyle. Being kept in well lit rooms, spotlit enclosures and tiny cages is painful to their sensitive vision and constraining on their social and physical needs.

They have a complex and specific diet which predisposes them to obesity and nutrient deficiencies in captivity. This results in the animals being weaker and more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia.


During my volunteering experience in Borneo I had a rather intimate experience with a slow loris. I had been tasked with cleaning out one of the rooms of the quarantine shed which happened to be the location of temporary cage housing for a recently surrendered slow loris and a sickly Bornean Kingfisher.

There was a lot of rat excrement and leaves that had blown in, and it was my job to sweep out the room, ideally without waking the two little animals. After about 15 minutes diligently sweeping away, I noticed the little loris stir ever so slowly and cast his gentle gaze upon me.

His tiny little hands reached out to the branch in front of him as he slowly turned to see who dared disturb his precious sleep. I was absolutely enthralled by this animal, so far from the tree he was once seized from, but thanks to work of this volunteer organisation (The Great Orangutan Project) he was on track to be rehabilitated and released.

It was a bittersweet moment however, as I reflected that if the malignant trade of wildlife as pets didn’t exist, this little guy would have never suffered the pain he must have endured.


International Animal Rescue run the largest slow loris rescue and rehabilitation centre in the world. They are responsible for the campaign “Tickling is Torture” which you may have seen pop up on social media.

I highly recommend checking out the work that they do, which is both devastating and heart-warming.

They provide regular updates on rescues of slow lorises seized or surrendered from ‘tourist attractions’ and wildlife traffickers, where animals have often been neglected and subject to cruelty.

It can be hard to hear the stories of the suffering that these delicate animals are subject to, but relieving to know that these animals will experience either a more natural life in a sanctuary, or better yet be released back in to the wild.

The rescued animals are submitted to a large veterinary clinic and provided with full health care attention with specific consideration of repairing or replacing their clipped teeth, allowing them to fend for themselves in the wild.

The lorises that are unable to be returned to the wild due to poor health are offered a permanent home in the Rescue’s sanctuary. In addition to their rescue and rehabilitation, International Animal Rescue conduct research in to developing more successful rehabilitation programs and reintroduction in to the wild.

They also provide education to local communities and work with law enforcement to identify and catch poachers and wildlife traffickers. The frustrating aspect of combatting illegal wildlife trade is that it’s the ‘harmless’ act of someone uploading a viral video of an exotic animal doing something cute that perpetuates this misconstrued idea that keeping wildlife as pets is a safe and sane thing to do.

These wild animals are not made for tiny wire cages and the stress of being kept as pets is often enough to kill them. I urge you to not buy in to the idea of keeping wildlife as pets, and to avoid sharing or liking any videos on social media that promote this appalling practice.

The pledge of the 'Tickling is Torture' campaign is this: "I pledge not to support and encourage the illegal pet trade in slow lorises. I will not ‘share' or ‘like' any video or photo that shows a slow loris being kept as a pet and, where possible, I will ‘comment' directing people to the International Animal Rescue slow loris rescue information page to help expose the truth and end the suffering."

You can sign it here. If you wish to take further action, you can make a donation directly to International Animal Rescue. Alternatively, you can purchase a memento from the store, funds from which go directly back in to providing these animals with the essential health care and food required to nurse them back to health.

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