Who could’ve guessed that Rihanna’s most scandalous selfie so far would be one in which she’s posing with a cute, furry critter?
RiRi, a fervent Instagrammer, has posted a slew of eye-raising photos before — of herself barely clothed, hanging in a strip club, and rolling a mysterious joint on her bodyguard’s bald head, for starters.
But this latest shot, of the pop star posing on a beach in Phuket, Thailand, with the endangered slow loris primate on her shoulder, has really stirred up some trouble — not just for the pop star, but for the two men who were using the loris as a photo prop. They were arrested as a result of the shot, which was posted to Rihanna's Twitter account on Friday.
"I had an order from the Phuket Governor to do a raid today after Rihanna posted a photo of her with the loris,” Awat Nithikul, an official with the Khao Phra Taew Forest Preserve, told the Phuket News.
Lorises are among the most endangered primates in the world, because of habitat loss and the fact that they are popular creatures in both the illegal pet trade and for Chinese medicine. It’s against the law for “touts” to charge people to have their photos taken with the critters, but it doesn’t stop the practice from happening on popular tourist beaches like Phuket.
"It is very difficult to do the raids because the touts have spies," Nithikul added. "If someone hears that the police are coming their way, there will be a person who calls the touts and tells them to move. But this is a big deal because it might affect Thailand's reputation."
The two arrested males, aged 20 and 16, face up to four years in prison and a $1,300 fine if convicted. The lorises, meanwhile, were brought to a national park in Phang Nga — a well-meaning gesture that might sound like a happy ending, but could very well lead to the animals' deaths, say experts, since the animals were most likely compromised by their captors.
The problem with the wide-eyed creatures being used as photo props (as well as in videos, such as one on YouTube that went viral and prompted a study of its impacts) is huge. And just last week, a group of primatologists and animal lovers kicked off an Indiegogo campaign to try to curb the trend.
“Your contribution can help us get slow lorises off the tourist streets of Phuket where they are being exploited for holiday snap-shots, and it can help us educate more tourists about the devastating illegal animal trade!!!!” notes the fund-raising website, “Slow Loris Rescue Project.”
It goes on to explain that “The majority of these slow lorises have been mutilated; they have had their teeth cut with whatever tools at hand in order to prevent bite injuries to human handlers,” write the activists. “This practice causes splintered roots, gum infections and not rarely death for the animal, if they do not receive veterinary care.”
The campaign aims to raise enough funds to build a loris rescue center in Phuket, because, as the site notes, it is “often unethical to release captive lorises back to the wild as the likelihood of them dying after release is over 90%.”
The rescue project's humble fund-raising goal? Just $5,000—a drop in the bucket for a certain "Unapologetic" pop star. Hint, hint.