Day of the Loof Lirpa

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The seemingly urgent e-mail jarred hundreds of people in Northwest Washington yesterday: A loof lirpa had escaped from the National Zoo and was galloping around the streets of Cleveland Park.

A careless zookeeper had been distracted while the animal's enclosure was unlocked, and the 350-pound lirpa, which has "gazelle-like horns," hurtled off, according to community activist Bill Adler's posting on the Cleveland Park electronic message board.

D.C. Police Cmdr. Andy Solberg quickly weighed in, alerting residents that a department helicopter was on the case. In his e-mail to the 6,200 people on the neighborhood e-mail list, Solberg added: "If we are not successful in assisting the Zoo with finding the lirpa today, I have the utmost confidence we will probably get him tomorrow."

Solberg said he couldn't pass on the April Fools' Day gag. (Spell loof lirpa backwards -- groan -- get it?)

"I love jokes," Solberg said, gasping for air between laughs. "This sure presented an opportunity."

Adler and Solberg said they didn't coordinate their prank on the unsuspecting Cleveland Park community. Adler's e-mail, issued at 8:19 a.m., warned in capital letters: "DO NOT TRY AND CAPTURE THE LOOF LIRPA ON YOUR OWN. IF YOU HAVE A LARGE DOG, PLEASE KEEP YOUR DOG INSIDE." It said the lirpa was planning to mate this weekend and is so nearsighted that it could mistake a golden retriever for a potential partner. And there's more: The animal has an aroma "that can best be described as smelling like 'cheap cologne,' " Adler wrote.

Not everyone got the joke immediately. Adler said he got plenty of e-mails, including one from a resident who said, "I was had! I guess civil engineers are pretty gullible when it comes to these things."

Zoo spokeswoman Lainie Contreras said she got only one call from someone who thought the warning was real: a television reporter. But she did get calls from people asking for "Mr. Bear," "Mr. Lion" or "Ms. Elephant." Apparently, pranksters were texting friends and co-workers yesterday, telling them to call "Mr. Lion" or "Mr. Bear" and giving the number to the zoo.

"We had to tell people, 'It's April Fools' Day, your friends are playing a joke on you,' " Contreras said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company