A few days ago word got out that heiress Paris Hilton was trying to call attention to the problem of drunken elephants going on rampages in northeast India. Soon this story got picked up by the press. For instance, here's part of a report that appeared in India's The Hindu:
GUWAHATI: Conservationists on Tuesday hailed socialite Paris Hilton, who has been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, for trying to highlight the cause of binge-drinking elephants in the northeast.
Activists said a celebrity endorsement was sure to raise awareness of the plight of the pachyderms that get drunk on farmers’ homemade rice beer then go on a rampage. Last month, six wild elephants that broke into a farm in Meghalaya were electrocuted after discovering and drinking the potent brew then uprooting an electricity pole.
“There would have been more casualties if the villagers hadn’t chased them away. And four elephants died in a similar way three years ago. It is just so sad,” Ms. Hilton was quoted as saying in Tokyo.
“The elephants get drunk all the time. It is becoming really dangerous. We need to stop making alcohol available to them,” she said in a report posted on the World Entertainment News Network website. Her comments were picked up by websites and newspapers around the globe.
“I am indeed happy Hilton has taken note of recent incidents of wild elephants in northeast India going berserk after drinking homemade rice beer and getting killed,” Sangeeta Goswami, who heads animal rights group People for Animals, said.
“As part of her global elephant campaign, Hilton should, in fact, think of visiting this region literally infested with elephants.”
Much to everyone's disappointment, it turned out that Paris Hilton never made these comments about drunken elephants. The AP posted a brief retraction:
GAUHATI, India (AP) — In a Nov. 13 story, The Associated Press incorrectly reported that Paris Hilton was praised by conservationists for highlighting the problem of binge-drinking elephants in northeastern India. Lori Berk, a publicist for Hilton, said she never made any comments about helping drunken elephants in India.
It's not clear to me what the original source of the Hilton-elephant news was. One theory is that it originated from an article on spoof.com, which would make it a case of satire mistaken as news. But the spoof.com article seems to be dated after the story had already widely circulated.
Whoever dreamed it up should be commended, because I can think of no one better qualified to be the patron saint of drunken elephants than Paris Hilton.
But while on the subject of drunken elephants, I should note that the widely circulated notion that elephants like to get drunk by eating marula fruit rotting on the ground is not true. Recent scientific studies have shown that a) elephants don't actually like to eat the marula fruit when it is on the ground. They prefer the fruit still in the tree. And b) the fruit does not spend enough time in their gut to ferment there and make them drunk. But it is true that elephants will happily drink alcohol if it is offered to them. (There have been studies about that too.)
[Credit goes to Tah for posting this first in the forum.]