After a week of infamy, that real poisonous reptile best known for inspiring the fake Twitter handle @bronxzooscobra has been finally tracked down, cornered, and captured. Zoo officials found the highly venomous, 20-inch long snake that was presumed to be roaming giddily throughout New York (and was even briefly and erroneously spotted on the West coast) coiled up in the Zoo Reptile House all along.
Officials, of course, were incredibly focused on the job at hand despite the media hysteria. "We appreciated that element but at the same time we needed to stay focused on recovering the animal because it was a serious situation and we couldn't lose sight of that," said Zoo director Jim Breheny to a local Fox affiliate. "So we did not at all want to be distracted by some of that lightheartedness." We, like everyone else, were.
But how did we get here? Here, meaning the nearly 6 days of live-blogging, tweeting, incessantly counting the followers of @bronxzooscobra and generally ratcheting up hyperbole for an Egyptian cobra that's been likened to the jail-breaking main character in The Shawshank Redemption.
Well, it's been a long saga. For textbooks of the future, here's a first draft of the history:
Stage One: Twitter Sounds the Alarm
On an otherwise calm early evening on March 26th, Twitter first started to notice the local news blurbs about the escaped Egyptian cobra that zoo officials assured was "was confined to an isolated, non-public area of the building." But, judging from a Google realtime sample, tweeters at least feigned to be scared of the slithering poisonous snake on the lam. "Bronx zoo. Lost a deadly cobra damn I'm scared", and "the Bronx is on alert! a cobra escaped the Bronx zoo. hope it doesn't make it's way down to TriBeCa" seemed to be common sentiments. Only a few hints of humor, "So there's an Egyptian Cobra out on the lose it just escaped from the bronx zoo #FREEDOM," were tweeted.
Stage Two: Local Tabloids and Blogs Take Heed
"Bx. Zoo cobra misssssssing," blared The New York Post on March 27th. "Today looks like a great day to not leave the house, doesn't it?" nervously blogged Gothamist. "Don’t Freak Out, But a Poisonous Egyptian Cobra Is on the Loose," cautioned New York. Coincidentally, Twitter realtime results also appeared to spike around this time. The Village Voice noted: "The person to be worried about right now is the zoo employee who has to hunt the cobra down in the Reptile House. His job sucks."
Stage Three: National News Outlets Roll Out the Explainers
In order to get in on the action, national media outlets contacted experts to explain sensible (and SEO friendly) queries such as ABC News' "What Should You Do If You Spot a Poisonous Snake?" and Fox News' "Treating a Poisonous Snake Bite." Like the zoo director who told The New York Times that "at this point, it’s just like fishing; you put the hook in the water and wait. Our best strategy is patience," media outlets took a long view of the situation, noting that it could be "several weeks" before the escapee was found. A typical tweet: "There's a wild Egyptian Cobra roaming the Bronx .. What's new?"
Stage Four: The Inevitable Fake Twitter Account
"Exclusive: 5 Questions with @BronxZoosCobra, the Runaway Snake with a Twitter Account," began Time magazine. Other media outlets had their own iteration of interviews with a fake snake account boasting over 200,000 followers. "I just want Justin Bieber to follow me," expressed the cobra's Twitter handler to The New York Times. Comedians were brought in to discuss the overnight phenomenon: "It's a missing snake on the lam. It's the stuff of comedy legend," said one to the Associated Press. A sample tweet of "comedy legend" @bronxzooscobra account: "Dear @CharlieSheen, know what's better than tiger's blood? Cobra venom. #winning #snakeonthetown Also I'm 20 inches long. Just sayin'."
Stage Five: Bloggers Hunt for Angles
By this time, some were even rooting for the Egyptian cobra snake on the loose. New York dubbed the reptile "Shawsnake" and accompanied it with a composite of the cobra with the iconic image Shawshank Redemption. Vanity Fair bloggers kept a running tally of updates from hapless zoo officials and reordered them from most comforting to frightening. Movieline pondered which famous snake would play the role of the bronx cobra when the inevitable "based on a true story" film is made. The Hollywood Reporter floated the theory that the snake became a popular meme because of the Dreamworks film Madagascar. The New York Times tried to provide context with "other tales of horror" about escaped animals and "reptilian vocabulary." And, yes, NPR even speculated that the fugitive snake might be a possible candidate for host of Saturday Night Live (it has a Facebook campaign 4,000 members strong).
Stage Six: Actual News Excites, Then Bores Everyone
BREAKING: "Bronx cobra captured..." tweeted the Drudge Report on March 31st. Twitter realtime results spiked when local news sources reported the recovery of the iconic "now famous" snake. "World’s Most Famous Escaped Cobra CAPTURED!" was a typical sample headline. As of this writing, ABC News and other outlets have gone with the breathless, bolded BREAKING NEWS banners on their website with some iteration of "Watch Live: Bronx Zoo Officials Announce the Recovery of the Escaped Cobra." It truly was a sight to see. "She looks in really good condition," said Jim Breheny, the zoo director, to a local Fox outlet. She was found coiled up in the Reptile House at about 9 am. Watch the press conference here.
Stage Seven: On to the Next Meme
"It was in the reptile house the whole time. That was anti-climactic," admitted Gawker's Adrien Chen. "The Bronx Zoo Cobra has lost like 15,000 followers on Twitter now that hes been found," tweeted one observer. "Now let us mourn the Twitter account @BronxZoosCobra," opined The Washington Post. And Vanity Fair admitted that it was a poor time for some guy to release a line of Cobra Snake T-shirts: "Remember when a snake went missing a few months ago, and then it was found? And it had this really funny Twitter? Oh, you remember."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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