Socialites Paris Hilton and Khloe Kardashian are receiving criticism from a U.N. conservation group for their orangutan-cuddling photographs posted on Instagram. The group cautions that humanizing baby apes encourages illegal trafficking and “undoes years of our work.”

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The celebrities have come under fire from the United Nation’s Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) for sharing photos of them hugging a dressed-up orangutan infant from Dubai. Coordinator Douglas Cress stated to CNN, “It lowers the value of the animal, and the public sense of conservation drops.” The women’s reach to millions of social media followers makes the group fearful of growing popularity toward domesticating wild animals – a trade that widely relies on brutal and illegal forms of trafficking.

GRASP is beginning an investigation into wild animal trafficking in the Middle East, which even brings animals to popular zoos in the area. Because law enforcement is weak in comparison to the wealthy folk encouraging the practice, it is hard to stop it. Zoo patrons would be shocked to learn, however, that the baby ape they are admiring was likely violently taken from its family by a trafficker who usually kills defensive adult apes who get in the way.

Related: Study shows orangutans are the true green architects of the natural world

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Celebrities have a bigger influence on public opinion than some might imagine. Cress states, “If you can laugh at an animal, or you can empathize by how human it is in clothing, then you rob it of its natural wildness. It becomes something comic, or a pet.” The group has reached out to each of the women’s agents, but they have not yet responded to requests for comments.

Via CNN

Images via Flickr, Instagram 1, 2