Stop Fake Wildlife News
H ow many times have you seen the photo of a large shark swimming on a highway since Hurricane Harvey blew into Texas?
I’ve been tagged on it numerous times on Facebook. The problem of course, is that it’s a fake.
How do I know?
For starters, it was identified as being near 290 off of the 610 loop, many miles from the nearest saltwater body—Galveston Bay.
The flooding from Harvey is from rain, not storm surge. Although bull sharks can live in freshwater, there aren’t any eight footers living in roadside canals in the Houston area.
The photo and others like it are fakes. They look good, but they are fakes, just like the one I saw of an orca in the flooded streets of my hometown of Orange, Texas.
Yes, a killer whale in Orange.
Sad thing was on Facebook and some people were buying it.
So, what’s the problem with people having a little fun and posting their Photoshop renderings to stir things up?
The problem is these images stir up fear and there is enough fear of wildlife out there. In this storm there is enough legitimate reason to be concerned, without people who really don’t know much about wildlife, pondering whether sharks are in their front yard.
It will not end with the sharks and the extra stupid orca picture. We’ll see false stories of all kinds.
As the floodwaters begin to recede, you can bet there will be absolutely fake news about giant “balls of cottonmouths” swimming in the floodwaters. I have seen this repeated during several storm incidents and floods in Texas. The stories are bogus, but people believe them.
Then they become extra terrified when they do see a snake. That of course causes more snakes to be killed.
Sometimes Internet information is just plain dangerous. Several times, I have seen people post that coral snakes are “rear-fanged snakes,” which have to chew on you a bit to get venom in.
I will never forget capturing on video the death of this dangerous rumor.
“You see this. These are fangs,” said George Van Horn as he carefully opened the mouth of a large eastern coral snake. Van Horn operates Reptile World Serpentarium in Kissimmee, Florida and collects venom for a pharmaceutical company.
The tiny fangs were in the front of the snake’s mouth. They destroy this commonly held myth It’s not true that coral snakes are rear-fanged and must “chew” on a person to inject venom.
“They are elapids just like cobras and they have the same skull structure. I don’t know where these rumors came from but they are persistent,” Van Horn said.
He went on to say that most coral snake bites result from people picking them up, and it is often young men.
“Women typically don’t go around picking up venomous snakes, and a coral snake has a very dangerous, difficult-to-treat venom. So people shouldn’t fool with them,” he said.
Women are also not very likely to believe Internet rumors and approach dangerous animals.
Another rumor that he shot down was the alleged 15-foot long eastern diamondback that has shown up in a variety of online e-mail and social media-forwarded photos. The world record for the species is actually around eight feet in length.
“We have a reticulated python that is around eight feet, and I can’t imagine a rattler that big. Eastern diamondbacks do get big, both in length and girth, but they are not as big as large pythons, not even close,” Van Horn said.
Speaking of pythons, the first time someone’s pet python is swimming the floodwaters, the critics will be calling for a ban on all exotic snakes and claiming we will have a problem like Florida’s with their Everglades Burmese python issue.
I also expect to see rumors of cougars throughout the Houston area. Now there are cougars in the Houston area. They are rare but they are there.
However, there are many bobcats, too. I personally shoot down at least a dozen “cougar” photos sent to me each year that are really bobcats.
Bobcats will turn to cougars. House cats probably will too. Of course the black ones are more likely to turn into “black panthers.”
People like wildlife stories. Unfortunately many people are more likely to gravitate toward sensationalist fake wildlife news of “balls of cottonmouths” and sharks on the highway.
We pledge to keep it real here and shoot down as much fake wildlife news as possible. The wildlife of our country deserves better than pathetic memes created in someone’s grandmother’s basement.
Like people, wildlife and those who pursue it in duck blinds and bay boats deserve the truth, and we will do our best to bring it here.
Email Chester Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org