DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
News

Fact/Fiction: Should you beware of knife-wielding baboons at a safari park?

Old news, truthfully retold. There have been wild allegations of monkey business but are they true?

Fact Fiction baboons Miles Cole

How it was told

Drive through a safari park and you know you’re putting your vehicle at (slight) risk of damage at the paws of the monkeys and apes.

And in the past you could probably have been certain that the most offensive blade brandished by baboons would have come from your windscreen wipers.

But these are strange times we are living in – and so it proved last week when a number of newspapers warned that the primates were now armed, even suggesting that visitors to Merseyside’s Knowsley Safari Park were passing on weapons.

A few UK news outlets picked up on the story, which identified sightings of baboons with knives, screwdrivers and even a chainsaw.

The story was first reported in The Sunday Times on July 26 bearing the headline: “Safari park baboons ‘armed with knives’”.

From there, other outlets jumped on the bandwagon, with The Sun opting for: “GOING APE Safari park baboons seen armed with knives, screwdrivers and CHAINSAW as ‘pranksters give them weapons to wreck cars’”.

Metro was wild about the story too. Its effort ran under the headline: “Baboons armed with ‘knives and chainsaw’ spotted in safari park”. The Daily Record, Yahoo!, Mail Online and the Daily Star also covered the tale.

All the stories cited anonymous quotes from two park workers making the claim that baboons are fishing the implements out of a toolbox and visitors are giving them a helping hand to attack cars.

A further anonymous quote aimed to paint a picture of the impact on vehicles, with a “mechanic from Sale” warning that “two customers fell victim to the baboons this year”.

It sounds bizarre – but is this story true or wildly off the mark?

Facts. Checked

This story has been debunked by Knowsley Safari Park.

The main problem with this story is that it seems there was little effort from The Sunday Times or The Sun, at least, to corroborate the claims with the safari park’s staff.

Following publication of those stories, on July 27 the Knowsley Safari Park account tweeted: “Hi @TheSun – just wondering if you’ve spoken to anyone who has actually ever seen this? #fakenews #hearsay #talltales #urbanmyths”

This triggered local and national titles to contact the park to get the full story and the verdict: it’s an urban myth that they reckon was born from exaggeration of times when baboons have managed to mess about with motors.

This was reported in the Liverpool Echo under the headline “Safari park sets record straight on chainsaw baboons ‘urban myth’”, while the Manchester Evening News and sister national title The Mirror also ran stories reporting the safari park’s denial.

The Sunday Times and The Sun published with no such comment, retrospectively updating their stories with statements from the safari park. The Liverpool Echo does the best job of laying out the safari park’s point of view, even suggesting that the articles could damage the park’s efforts to get back on track after reopening on June 15 following the Covid-19 lockdown.

Rachel Scott, head of marketing at Knowsley Safari Park, told them: “We’ve heard many such tales being told over the years and, of course, if we’re provided with any genuine cause for concern we take the appropriate steps.

“We’re just really saddened and surprised that these urban myths were reported by a broadsheet and then rehashed without any proper facts by its sister tabloid publication.”

Despite the doubt being cast over the claims, The Sunday Times, Sun and Metro stories remain online with their original headlines at the time of writing, so there are a couple of cautionary lessons to learn from this scenario.

The first is to be wary of anonymously attributed quotes. They are necessary in sensitive stories to protect the identity of sources, but in this case they can call into question the veracity of the claims.

It’s also a warning to read beyond the headline – otherwise you’ll be left to fear roaming armed gangs of baboons ruling safari parks – and that really would be wild.

Image: Miles Cole

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Why the four-day working week is a feminist issue – and what we need to do about it
Four-day working week

Why the four-day working week is a feminist issue – and what we need to do about it

Hollyoaks legend Emily Burnett: 'With the right people behind you, you can do anything'
Learning Disability Week 2024

Hollyoaks legend Emily Burnett: 'With the right people behind you, you can do anything'

Benefits, bills and safe routes for refugees: All the issues the major parties aren't talking about
Sunak and Starmer debate
General election 2024

Benefits, bills and safe routes for refugees: All the issues the major parties aren't talking about

June 2024 payment dates for DWP benefits – plus universal credit increase
money in wallet/ dwp benefits
Benefits

June 2024 payment dates for DWP benefits – plus universal credit increase

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know