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Phuket: Rihanna loris pics prompt call for tougher tout penalties

PHUKET : Photos posted online of pop star Rihanna posing with an endangered slow loris on Phuket last week show criminal penalties for wildlife traders are too weak, one of the island's top police officers says.

By Bangkok Post

Sunday 29 September 2013, 12:19PM

Kathu district police deputy superintendent Akanit Danpitaksat admitted soft punishments make it almost impossible for officers to stamp out the trade in protected wildlife on the island.

"The punishment is up to the court's consideration. However, it is too soft to stop them," he said.

Touts, who charge money _ usually around 100 baht _ for tourists to take photos with rare animals such as slow lorises and iguanas, are able to resume business almost immediately after being arrested, because the penalties are so weak.

Bangkok Post Sunday visited Soi Bangla, Phuket's main tourist strip, almost a week after Rihanna posted the slow loris pictures, but the wildlife touts seemed to have disappeared. Residents on the island say this is an anomaly, as the touts have been a regular and highly visible attraction on Patong's main tourist strip for many years.

Pol Lt Col Akanit, however, claimed the police response to the Rihanna photos, which included the arrest of two alleged touts, was not a mere publicity stunt. "We normally survey and check for this illegal activity every night, not just because those pictures were posted by Rihanna," he said. "We have erected signs telling people that the loris shows are illegal."

Pol Lt Col Akanit admitted that despite the campaign, there are still some wildlife touts wandering Soi Bangla. He said detecting the animals, particularly lorises, can be difficult as they are small and can easily be hidden from police view.

Petra Osterberg, an experienced volunteer at the Phuket Gibbon Project rehabilitation centre, said Thailand's image as an eco-tourism destination means travellers arrive here expecting to see wildlife. Many are ignorant to the fact that the animals paraded by touts are protected.

"The slow loris is an endangered wild animal," Ms Osterberg said. "They like to stay still at the same place and do not often move. They might attack when they feel uncomfortable, such as when people want to take a picture with them ... and loris bites are highly poisonous."

Ms Osterberg said almost all slow lorises seen in tourist areas have had their teeth removed to nullify this toxic bite.

"Cutting slow loris teeth can affect their nerves, and when they are rescued from traders, they cannot return to the wild as they do not have teeth," he said.

"I hope authorities will enforce the law to protect this endangered wild life before they all become extinct."

Bangkok Post.



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