Oops: Boston Globe columnist falls for 15-year old boy’s tall tale about zebra hunting

Last Sunday, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote a profile of a boy from Nigeria who has moved to the United States and is thriving here.  The first sentence of the profile is as follows:

Five years ago, Abubakar Suleiman was hunting zebras with spears and trying to avoid antagonizing cheetahs.

The profile goes on:

Suleiman … became a track star, helping Orchard Gardens take the citywide athletic championship earlier this month. Suleiman won all but one of his 400-meter races and anchored the 4×200 relay team. He placed first in javelin.

“I have a technique,” he said with a wry smile. The zebras.

Just one problem. There are no wild zebras in Nigeria:

There are no zebra in the wild in Nigeria. (There are zebra on Nigerian postage stamps but that is about selling stamps to collectors, not zebra habitat.)  While it is possible for a cheetah to exist in the savannas of northern Nigeria, this is extremely rare. Humans would frighten, not antagonize, any wild cheetah there.  Besides, hunting is about accuracy; javelin is about distance.

Yep, being a bright 15-year-old boy with a wry sense of humor gave him a leg up on Ms. Abraham.  He put her on, dangled the hook and she went for it.  As a sophisticated Bostonian, I’m sure she’s seen all those National Geographic specials; Africa is chocked full of zebras and cheetahs. Kenya and Nigeria must be pretty much the same thing.  All part of that country called Africa. Yes sub-Saharan Africa consists of about 50 political subdivisions called countries, but it is still Africa.  Just like Iowa has 90 or so subdivisions called counties, but it is still Iowa.

As AfricasCountry.com notes, the Globe “had clearly come for the whole Coming to America schtick, and that’s exactly what they got.”

Today Abraham posted the following correction to her column:

After this column ran, I received several notes from readers saying there are no zebras in the Nigerian wild.

They’re right. I spoke to the Abubakar Suleiman, and he admitted that the hunting escapades he told me about, stories he told friends and teachers since arriving at the age of 10, were tales he’d heard from an uncle, and not his own. But in conversations with his mother and teachers, the rest of his story checks out. His many remarkable accomplishments in Boston stand.

As for Suleiman, he is winning major cool points for tricking The Globe reporter with his “wry smile”:

Someone get him a job at The New Republic or The New York Times, stat.

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