How We All Help the Illegal Pet Trade, and How We Can Stop.

This article by George Lincoln first appeared on

The ‘Tickling is Torture’ campaign, conceived by International Animal Rescue.


Do you support the illegal pet trade? “No!” most people would say, but in reality, we all help in more ways than we know…

I first sent a letter to John Whittingdale, the then Culture Media and Sport Minister, about a year ago- highlighting the complex issue of illegal pet trade, and the easy steps the Government could take to help prevent it. I never got a reply. However, in this letter, I mentioned a few things:

  • Funny animal videos, and posts on social media often help the illegal pet trade cause.
  • People aren’t aware of the dangers surrounding these videos because they aren’t always clear and exploit the animal instincts of some humans (pointing and laughing).
  • The internet is free and neutral, but people need to be educated about the dangers of said service.

Let me talk about funny animal videos first. This might not seem harmful but often, a dark secret lies below a lot of videos. One example of this was the Slow Loris pet trade last year. That year, a series of posts and videos began to circulate around social media depicting an exotic creature (similar looking to a Galago) holding it’s hands in the air whilst it was being tickled. Facebook didn’t have a view counter back then because it hadn’t copied YouTube yet, but I estimate it was watched around 10 million times.

Soon after people were ‘awwwing’ about this cute animal- videos by the International Animal Rescue group began to circulate explaining how the animal we saw was being tortured. It turns out that these creatures had been taken illegally from their habitats, and the reason it was holding its hands up in the air was because it was trying to secrete a venom to warn off the monsters hunting it- us. Because this video was watched so many times, without people knowing the cold hard truth, the illegal trade business of these animals gained traction. But even after this revelation, torture and illegal trade continues, and this is how:

People see others getting their pets to perform tricks and be funny on social media, which makes them want to do the same. Because of this, ordinary non exotic creatures like dogs are tortured and made to do things that would make the Dogs Trust’s jaws drop in horror- such as being made to run on a treadmill as well as things like dressing them up- which can cause incredible discomfort. However, it’s not normal to see these signs online as the videos these animals feature in are over in a heartbeat, leaving no room for thought.

So what can we do to stop this silent slaughter, this invisible torture, this [insert antithesis here]? Education.

Ironically, education has remained very conservative to date, with no effort being made to teach about any of the new powers the 21st century has bread. With all of these things in mind, schools should teach of the dangers of the connected world such as online abuse, pornography and deceiving videos. And as a core part of the curriculum, not as some sort of ‘let’s have a one off cool fun day guys’ thing- that’s not what those things are for. The United Kingdom could be at the forefront of educational reform, but so far it’s not.

The net is free and neutral, truly the greatest and most accessible source of information. But to preserve this power and make sure we can use it to it’s best potential- there needs to be education on how to use it properly. Not censorship. Definitely not. Don’t even get me started…


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