R&B singer Rihanna, who is currently in Phuket, took a photo of herself with a loris while out on Bangla Road and posted it on Instagram yesterday. The photo sparked outrage from many people due to the long-running endeavours by animal welfare groups to keep the animals in the wild and away from tourists.
Lorises are an endangered species and it is illegal for touts to charge tourists money in return for photos with the cute animals. Several touts were arrested in June but despite promises of crackdowns, police say they are unable to track down the touts easily.
Earlier today, Kathu District Chief Veera Kerdsirimongkol ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Kathu Superintendent to 'urgently investigate' the issue of lorises on Bangla Road.
Later this evening, an official order from Phuket Governor Maitree Intusut arrived, and officials were told to complete a raid on Bangla Road. Wildlife Suppression Patrol Officers worked together with police during the raid. This is the first of many planned for the area, officials said.
Two touts were arrested and taken to Kathu Police Station, where they were presented to the media at around 9pm tonight.
Awat Nithikul, the leader of the patrol officers and Senior Forest Academic at Khao Phra Taew Forest Preserve, told The Phuket News, "I had an order from the Phuket Governor to do a raid today after Rihanna posted a photo of her with the loris."
"It is very difficult to do the raids because the touts have spies. 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 touts are waiting to be bailed, and the two lorises will be returned to a national park in Phang Nga.