THE BLOG

No Photos Please - Why a Picture Op With Rihanna Is Bad News if You're Endangered

27/09/2013 10:58 BST | Updated 24/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Good looking, very desirable, a creature of the night, constantly blinded by the flashes of adoring fans, and now a true worldwide celebrity - it must be hellish hanging out with Rihanna if you are an endangered slow loris.

So, just what was going through Rihanna's mind when she decided to have her picture taken with an illegal photo-prop animal in Phuket this week? I recently read an article in the Daily Mail which highlighted what a bad role model Rihanna was to her young and easily influenced global fanbase - glorification of guns, drugs, provocative poses and outfits etc. Rather than take heed, Rihanna instead launched a foul mouthed torrent of abuse on Twitter personally attacking the columnist...

So, as much as I don't want to cross Rihanna, I do feel the need to emphasise how irresponsible she has been in posting this photo, albeit, even if like so many tourists, she didn't quite know the reality of the 'photo prop' industry.

The incident took place whilst Rihanna was on tour in Thailand. A tweeted picture of her with a slow loris, a photo that has since gone on to get over 200,000 Instragram likes. The caption was 'Look who was talking dirty to me!' - but the reality? Somewhat different.

The photo prop industry can be found across the world in many popular tourist destinations, but is particularly bad in Thailand, with Phuket (where this photo was taken) being a known hot spot. Locals parade around the bar areas offering predominantly westerners the chance for the photo of a lifetime with a 'rare' or 'exotic' animal. Slow lorises are particularly popular, as are young gibbons.

The thing is, what equates to a moment of fun for the tourist translates to a lifetime of hell for the animals involved. Care for the Wild is just about to launch a campaign called 'No Photos Please' whichaims to highlight that even a tiny, and often completely innocent action, like getting your photo done with one of these photo-prop animals has massive ramifications.

It's like the butterfly effect, but on steroids, or in the case of Phuket, like the butterfly effect with a double vodka and redbull chaser. It is estimated that for each of the animals used in the photo prop industry, up to 50 die in the 'supply chain'. The one that definitely dies is the animal's mother. To get the young slow loris or gibbon at an age where it can be carried around without causing harm, means that you have to kill the mother.

How do we know this? Well, because the babies never ever leave their mother's side at this time - they literally have to be unclung from the dead mother's body. Many of them go on to die in transit, as taken out of their natural environment, away from their nursing mothers and away from their natural food supply they struggle to survive. Many die in the markets that they are sold in, whilst kept in inhumane and overcrowded conditions, and all will have their teeth cut our or pulled out to stop them injuring their new owners.

And, just like RiRi's new best friend, those that even make it through to become this week's star of Facebook, live a short and unhappy life - don't be fooled into thinking they are kept in any way like a beloved pet when out of sight of the tourists.

As well as all species of slow loris being classified as either critically endangered or vulnerable, and on the CITES Appendix I listing (thanks to the help of Care for the Wild in 2006) which bans them from any international trade, they are also nocturnal. So, every time an unwitting tourist takes a picture of them, the flash will damage their sensitive eyes, developed for foraging in the pitch black forest, not busking in a neon clad go-go bar.

So, Rihanna, if you or your people are reading this, maybe now is a good time to let your fan base know that your few seconds of fun wasn't such a good idea, and that even a 'Good Girl Gone Bad' can always go good again. You can even visit our website that promotes animal friendly tourism at www.RIGHT-tourism.org - type in Thailand and see what you find. Sometimes doing the right thing is the thing that looks really cool.