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The Girl Who Cried Baboon

Perry DeAngelis would have loved this story.

Many people are familiar with the famous fable by Aesop, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  The protagonist of the fable is a bored shepherd boy who entertained himself by tricking nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock of sheep. When they came to his rescue, they found that the alarms were false and that they had wasted their time. When the boy was actually confronted by a wolf, the villagers did not believe his cries for help and the wolf ate the flock (and in some versions the boy).

Well, perhaps it is time to retell the story as The Girl Who Cried Baboon.

CBS News reported that on Friday, a 14 year old girl in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri had snapped a photo on her cell phone of a baboon on the loose in her neighborhood. She reported the sighting to her family, and they in turn notified the police and news media.  This sent the entire region into a state of alert. A nearby grade school went into lockdown, extra police officers were dispatched, and two of the locals who actually own monkeys were out in the area making noises and setting bait to try to lure the baboon.

(As an aside, why are people allowed to own monkeys?  With the exception of helper monkeys, it boggles my mind that anyone would keep primates as pets.  But that is another topic for another time.)

As it turns out, the whole thing was a hoax. The girl took the photo from the internet, and as soon as someone found the same picture online, her game was over. No charges were filed.

Is there a moral to this story?  Several.

Moral #1 – Hoaxes are not always harmless. You never know the extent that other people will go during the course of a hoax. If you are going to plan a hoax (and people have asked us at the SGU to pull hoaxes on the public in order to further show the innate gullibility of people, and we have always rejected this approach) you have to design it ever so carefully so that people do not get hurt.  This can be extremely tricky, and unless you can maintain equilibrium, the hoax can get out of control.

Moral #2 – Some hoaxes wind up living well beyond their intended lifespan. Just ask Doug and Dave and their infamous crop circles. Pseudosciences can be created, but sometimes, they will never go away.

Moral #3 – Don’t keep monkeys or primates as pets. They are potentially dangerous, and while I am not an animal rights activist, I find there to be a great indecency in keeping these animals so far removed from what should be a more natural habitat.

As a footnote, the book Aesopica: A Series of Texts Relating to Aesop or Ascribed to Him is considered by many as the definitive book of all fables reputed to be by Aesop. The author’s name?  Ben Edwin Perry.

How apropos.

3 comments to The Girl Who Cried Baboon

  • You have to love when the primary message of a story is “don’t own monkeys as pets.” It’s an excellent lesson, even if Disney up there on their high horse won’t make a movie about it.

  • Nick Andrew

    Apropos to Moral #1, people in general need to adopt a more skeptical approach to reporting of unusual occurrences. A single cellphone photo is not evidence, nor a single reporter.

    Assuming some trust in the evidence or report, the response must be commensurate to the level of credibility. Perhaps a squad car could be dispatched to cruise the neighbourhood looking for the baboon. If it is located, further measures can be taken. One can’t adequately protect against a baboon which nobody (else) has seen and which could be anywhere in a suburb.

    That reminds me of a UFO hoax created by my uncles in the 1950s, in Melbourne. They plotted a fake trajectory of a fake spacecraft, and then had different people phone in sightings at different times and places accordingly. They were obviously expecting somebody in authority to do the math and derive a credible trajectory from these various reports. So that leads to Moral #4 – multiple reports which agree in the details can still be a hoax.

  • johntheplumber

    Re- Moral #3 – Don’t keep monkeys or primates as pets. They are potentially dangerous.

    I assume you apply this to all primates. –
    I already take particular care babysitting my two grand-daughters – but now you point it out, the adults are worse.

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