For a number of months now I’ve noticed an increase in the volume of ‘cute’ animal pictures and videos posted by The LAD Bible on Facebook. Whilst on the face of things it may appear random, like a minor theme in a sea of content, some quick number crunching may suggest otherwise.

When comparing ten posts in line with those pictured above with a random sample of ten other pieces of video content published in the same time period, we see that the exotic animal content produces 66% more likes per view, 72% more comments per view, and 27% more shares per view. These numbers are significant, especially in an industry which trades on social engagement.

Social media plays a dangerous role in growing demand for the illegal wildlife trade; what may first appear as a harmless ‘cute’ pic, with many jumping to the defence of its publication, may actually be an inadvertent advertising campaign for a tiny percentage of the population. However small that group may be, the impact they can have is devastating.

Whilst it is quick and easy to condemn the owners of illegal pets (or even legal exotic pets), some onus must fall on the publishers, such as The LAD Bible, who according to their own statistics reach over 150 million people per week across their publishing group. It is not unreasonable to suggest that a handful of individuals in that pool would have the inclination and the means to acquire exotic animals through unregulated trade.

For example, in the last five years, cheetahs have felt extreme pressure from the exotic pet trade which is particularly prominent in the Gulf states. Almost all cheetahs are bought illegally, often as cubs, for upwards of $10,000 to pose for glorified Instagram lifestyle posts. There a number of other instances of wildlife effected by social media crazes, including pygmy marmosets, the slow loris and many others.

CITES are already calling for states to engage with “relevant social media platforms, search engines, and e-commerce platforms to address illegal international trade”, and whilst The LAD Bible are by no means the sole perpetrators, as a wide-reaching UK publisher I’d like to see them take a little responsibility, and adjust their content strategy in consideration of the potential wider damage they cause.