Activists at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) have taken aim at model Kate Upton for posing with endangered species in a new magazine spread.

The Sports Illustrated covergirl cuddled up to a baby tiger, leopard, lion and gibbon for a spread in an upcoming issue of Harper's Bazaar's, and the photographs have infuriated animal rights activists, who claim the creatures shouldn't have been ripped away from their parents just to be used as fashion props.

A statement from the organisation reads, "We're sure that Kate, like most people, doesn't know that wild animals used for photo shoots have been taken away from their mothers at birth and deprived of everything that is natural and important to them. The gibbon featured in the photographs is an infant and should be with his mother at all times.

"Besides the emotional trauma that he has undoubtedly suffered as a result of the separation, his delicate immune system is still developing, and he is susceptible to illnesses that humans carry. All the animals in the photographs are endangered and should be protected, rather than being treated like props."

However, chiefs at Miami, Florida's Zoological Wildlife Foundation (Zwf), who provided three of the animals, insists the creatures were never in any danger on the shoot.

A spokesperson for Zwf tells Eonline.com, "Our animals... are raised with dignity, much love and respect. Peta's comment about them being 'ripped off their mothers from the wild' is at best ludicrous... These animals in no way, shape or form were stressed."