BOSTON (AP) – It looks like a typical National Geographic cover – with the signature yellow border and “wild animals.” So what is Paris Hilton doing on there?

The folks at Harvard Lampoon persuaded employees of one of the nation’s most respected magazines to help them ensure their April Fool’s parody – with its teased stories on Mongolia’s wildest waterparks and “Native Girls Gone Wild” – looked authentic.

The issue, released Tuesday, is the latest in a string of Harvard Lampoon magazine parodies that began in 1896 with Life. But the undergraduate group had never done National Geographic, which quickly responded when contacted by the students last summer

“My guess was they were just extremely bored and they were tired of working with animals and scientists and wanted to hang out with college students,” said Hayes Davenport, who edited the magazine with fellow Harvard senior Ross Arbes.

Davenport said other publications have helped with their parodies in the past, such as when USA Today printed the Lampoon’s version on its press in 1989. And he said National Geographic’s staff – who had no editorial control over the parody – were eager to make fun of their ultra-serious, self-important image.

The magazine helped print the parody and distribute it alongside its own April edition in some areas, Arbes said. A designer also helped lay out the parody to make it look as much like the original as possible.

“They provided things that were really valuable to us,” Arbes said.

Editors from National Geographic could not be reached for comment Monday, but the magazine released a tongue-in-cheek statement.

“Editors are unavailable for comment, having left the country … as usual,” it said. “There are reports of laughter from parts of the building, but that could just be because we are a fun place to work.”

In one article, the Lampoon takes aim at the National Geographic contributor who toils away for years in search of a specific species. Their “Seeking the Island Fox” article has the writer cold, wet and annoyed at getting just a brief glance of a “pretty boring” animal.

In another jab at National Geographic’s staid image, the Lampoon created three new editions to help keep the magazine relevant for younger generations, including “National Geographic After Dark,” which features Hilton in a “Your Wildest Animal Fantasies” story. Hilton posed for the cover in February, when the humor magazine gave her their “Woman of the Year” award in Cambridge – itself a spoof of the Hasty Pudding honors bestowed each year.

And of course, the Lampoon’s version offers a send up to anthropological nudity. A photo of a lion is actually made up of dozens of images of women’s bare chests.

Arbes said more than 200,000 issues of the magazine were printed, average for a magazine parody, but much more than the 30,000-50,000 for a typical Harvard Lampoon issue.

Davenport said the parody was good enough to fool a store clerk Monday, who sold him two copies for $4.50 – the cover price for National Geographic – instead of the magazine’s $5.50 cost.

“I saved $2, and the feeling that gives me makes it worthwhile,” he said.

Arbes has higher aspirations for the issue.

“It would be nice at the end of the day if we got a little fame and both got girlfriends,” he said.

On the Net:

Harvard Lampoon:

National Geographic:

AP-ES-03-31-08 1844EDT

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