While vacationing on the resort island of Phuket, Thailand, R&B singer Rihanna stopped to pose for a picture with what she thought was just any other strange local pet. It turns out that the singer actually took a photo of herself with a slow loris, an endangered species whose adorable looks have put it in danger of extinction.
It’s true that the small primate is ridiculously cute — unfortunately, the adorable photos and videos of slow lorises on the internet leave out the dark side of the animals’ story. Pet lorises are usually ripped from their mothers at a young age and held in crowded, cramped cages before being illegally sold in Asian markets. The slow loris is equipped with venomous fangs, and its bite can prove disabling or even fatal to humans. The animals you see in photos like Rihanna’s have almost always had their teeth ripped out or clipped off to keep them from biting tourists and would-be owners — opening the animals up to infections, debilitating pain and often, death. Even when they survive, the nocturnal animals often live their lives stressed, blinded and disoriented when humans try to interact with them in daylight.
While Rihanna’s photo immediately racked up about 200,000 likes, many of Rihanna’s fans also reacted with anger and disbelief when she posted the photo, slamming the artist for glorifying the exotic animal trade. The Thai police were apparently keeping tabs on her travels in Phuket, because the very next day two people in the area were arrested for illegal possession of the protected animals, and are now facing a $1,300 fine and up to four years in prison. Two lorises were confiscated at the scene.
Unfortunately, many times these traffickers don’t end up seeing justice. While every country the slow loris naturally occurs in has laws on the books protecting them, the laws often aren’t enforced. In fact, one study found that law enforcement officials in Cambodia often participate in the trade themselves. Apart from simple corruption, another problem is that there’s often nowhere for the animals to go once they’re rescued. Lorises with clipped teeth can’t be released back into the wild, and there’s only so much space in for them in rescue centers.
Locals say that in Phuket, any arrests of loris sellers are rare. In an interview with the Phuket News, a local official, Veerawit Kruesombat, described the raid as “just window dressing,” accusing the police of accepting bribes to overlook illegal trading and predicting that everything would “blow over” within a month, once the celebrity was gone.
Photo credit: Instagram