Former Miss Universe fights Phuket gibbon touts

PHUKET: Former Miss Universe Natalie Glebova visited Phuket today to raise public awareness about gibbons being illegally owned and used as props for photo opportunities.

“As a celebrity, I can use my voice and my platform to spread awareness to other people, and say, ‘Hey, when you see gibbons, don’t take a picture with them’,” Ms Glebova said.

The Russian-Canadian beauty queen’s move comes after a firestorm of criticism about her posting a picture on Instagram of herself holding a gibbon on Phi Phi Island.

“I am here today because I wanted to learn a little more about gibbons that are being illegally possessed by people in Phuket and throughout Thailand,” Ms Glebova told the Phuket Gazette during her visit to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project at Bang Pae Waterfall this morning. “I wanted to see what they do here to help protect them and how they rehabilitate them. I also wanted to learn a little bit more about why people shouldn’t take pictures with them.”

A volunteer at the center, Mikael Mahlberg, explained that anyone who pays touts to have their pictures taken with protected species is funding a gruesome trade.

“Every time someone pays to have their pictures with animals like this [gibbons], they also pay to have other gibbons killed in the wild. [This is] because they [poachers] have to kill the parents to get the baby gibbons to use in the tourist trade,” Mr Mahlberg said. “It is a very, very bad business.”

Ms Glebova explained that when she took the photograph with the gibbon on Phi Phi she was completely unaware of the implications.

“I think it is an unfortunate incident [that she took the photo with the gibbon]. However, I think it is now an opportunity to bring this issue to light, because, as I didn’t know, I’m sure others don’t know,” Ms Glebova said.

“I am a big, big animal lover. Of course lots of people who love animals will right away, when they see the animal, want to touch it, cuddle it and take a picture with it. That’s why I think it is so important to raise awareness.”

Ms Glebova’s visit to Phuket with a few of her friends from Bangkok wasn’t all about apes. The group also visited the Soi Dog Foundation today, and tomorrow are planning to take toys for Songkran festivities to an orphanage in Phang Nga.

— Chutharat Plerin

Source: Phuketgazette