Thai authorities on Monday said two men had been arrested on suspicion of possessing a protected primate after pop star Rihanna posted a picture of herself online holding the creature.
The singer posed with the tiny, large-eyed slow loris on a night out in the tourist resort of Phuket on Friday, posting a picture on Twitter and Instagram, without apparently realising that the use of the animal as a prop for tourist snaps is illegal.
The image — captioned “Look who was talkin dirty to me!” (http://instagram.com/p/efvnHRBM3B/) — generated outrage from animal lovers concerned about rampant exploitation of animals in Thai tourist areas and prompted a quick response from authorities.
Local district chief Veera Kerdsirimongkol said two men were arrested on Saturday on suspicion of possessing a loris.
“I have asked police to check the area in Patong beach after Rihanna posted her picture on Friday night with a slow loris,” he told AFP.
Wildlife trade protection group Traffic said the image of Rihanna with the loris “takes global conservation efforts several steps back”.
“The public often takes a cue from people they look up to, and when celebrities act in this manner, there is a real danger that the mass thinks its ok for everyone else to be doing this. It’s not ok,” said Senior Programme Officer Kanitha Krishnasamy.
Rihanna, who was holidaying in Thailand as she travelled through the region as part of her “Diamonds” world tour, also posed with several elephants in further pictures and commented on visiting one of the area’s notorious sex shows.
The “Umbrella” singer’s picture with the loris received more than 231,000 likes on Instagram, while also sparking a discussion among commentators about the protected animal.
Thai resorts such as Phuket are well known for animals like lorises being used in shows and displays for tourists.
According to Traffic, slow lorises are found throughout Asia, ranging from India and China to Indonesia and the Philippines.
They are banned from commercial international trade and protected in Thailand.
The animals are threatened by habitat destruction and a rapacious illegal pet trade “stimulated in part by their regular appearance in online videos”, Traffic said, adding that mothers are often killed while young are stolen.
The loris bite is toxic so their teeth are removed to make them better pets.