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Hoax Alert

Fake News: NO Police Warning, NO Killer Animals Escaped From Essex Zoo

  • by: Maarten Schenk
  • (Tue, 17 Apr 2018 07:51:28 Z)

Did two Chilean hunting butterfies escape from Flappy Flaps Zoo near South Woodham Ferrers and is a massive police hunt underway to capture them? No, that is a fake story made up by a satirical website, there is no truth to it.

The Southend News Network published an article on April 16, 2018 titled "POLICE WARNING after killer animals escape from Essex Zoo" (archived here) which opened:

A Level 5 Public Awareness Alert has been issued for the entire county of Essex this evening after two carnivorous Chilean hunting butterflies escaped from Flappy Flaps Zoo near South Woodham Ferrers.

According to a police spokesperson, the distinctive and 'potentially lethal' butterflies should not be approached under any circumstances, and ten police helicopters have been scrambled to lead the search efforts.

In a hastily-organised press conference this evening, Community Outreach PC Nigel Papy-Lon said: 'A member of the public from South Woodham Ferrers called 999 just after 4pm this evening to report that two large butterflies had mauled her pet cat to death in her back garden.'

Screenshot of http://www.southendnewsnetwork.net/news/police-warning-after-killer-animals-escape-from-essex-zoo/

But there is no "Flappy Flaps Zoo" in Essex. The closest thing in real life would be the Tropical Wings Zoo but that one closed down at the end of last year:

Popular Essex zoo Tropical Wings is closing down

Tropical Wings Zoo in South Woodham Ferrers is closing for good next month after the owners have decided to retire due to ill health. A statement posted on the Tropical Wings Facebook page this afternoon (November 14), written by the zoo owners Dennie and Rona Strong, confirmed that the zoo will close for good in December.

In addition the name of the police officer mentioned in the story ("Papy-Lon") is just a twist on the French word "papillon" which means "butterfly". French pun names are a common signature of Southend News Network stories. And of course there is no such thing as a "Chilean hunting butterfly", the species does not exist.

The Southend News Network is a satirical site pretending to be a news organisation by the English coast in Southend. They have a disclaimer on their about page that reads (in part):

Southend News Network was originally started in October 2015 with no real aims or objectives in mind other than to add a satirical/spoof-like touch to issues that people are passionate about in Southend On Sea. Above all else, SNN is all about having the occasional 'dig' at the powers that be, as well a slightly bigger and more frequent 'dig' at certain elements of local media!

Several of their stories have been mistaken for real news in the past and the site was recognized by the local authorities as an "official news outlet".

Users on social media only who saw this title, description and thumbnail might have confused it for a real news article about a dangerous insect:

POLICE WARNING after killer animals escape from Essex Zoo

A Level 5 Public Awareness Alert has been issued for the entire county of Essex this evening after two carnivorous Chilean hunting butterflies escaped from Flappy Flaps Zoo near South Woodham Ferrers. According to a police spokesperson, the distinctive and 'potentially lethal' butterflies should not be approached under any circumstances, and ten police helicopters have...

We wrote about southendnewsnetwork.net before, here are our most recent articles that mention the site:

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About the author:

Maarten Schenk is our resident expert on fake news and hoax websites. He likes to go beyond just debunking trending fake news stories and is endlessly fascinated by the dazzling variety of psychological and technical tricks used by the people and networks who intentionally spread made-up things on the internet.  He can often be found at conferences and events about fake news, disinformation and fact checking when he is not in his office in Belgium monitoring and tracking the latest fake article to go viral.

Read more about or contact Maarten Schenk
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