Exposed: Meerkat photo story was a ‘hoax’

Amateur Photographer (AP) magazine can exclusively reveal that today’s national newspaper stories, claiming a meerkat took photographs at Longleat Safari Park, were based on a hoax.

The Times
Amateur Photographer (AP) magazine can exclusively reveal that today’s national newspaper stories, claiming a meerkat took photographs at Longleat Safari Park, were based on a hoax.

Keith Harris, head warden at Longleat Safari Park, told AP’s news editor Chris Cheesman: ‘It started off as a joke. It was a slight hoax. The meerkats didn’t take any pictures at all.’

Harris said that the story was originally passed to the Bristol-based South West News Service.

He explained that it wasn’t meant to be picked up by newspapers in this way, adding that it started as an idea for a good picture when the meerkats began playing around with the camera equipment.

The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, Daily Mail and The Mirror were among the newspapers to publish the story after receiving it in good faith, along with the images, from the well known news agency.

They reported that a cheeky meerkat called Monty used a Canon EOS 650 film-based SLR camera (pictured) to take a family portrait when a photographer left his kit inside an enclosure.

The animal had seemingly clambered up the tripod to explore the controls after deputy head warden Ian Turner briefly stepped out of the enclosure.

But the reports stated that the pictures were stored on the camera's 'digital memory card'.

This raised the eyebrows of AP's eagle-eyed technical writer Barney Britton - triggering doubts over the authenticity of the story – because the camera shown alongside the inquisitive meerkat was a 20-year-old Canon EOS 650, a traditional camera which uses film.

Ian Turner was on holiday and unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

No-one from the news and picture agency, South West News Service, was available for comment.

Click here for a news update dated 7 September.

Click on the links below for just a few of the original stories published in the press (6 September).

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/09/05/nmeer105.xml

http://travel.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/travel/news/article2395285.ece

http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2007410512,00.html

Canon EOS 650
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