This Day in the History of Hoaxes: September 19
September 19, 1984: Houston Zoo's Fake Snake
On this day, the Houston Zoo admitted that the coral snake on display for the past two years was not actually alive. It was a rubber snake. Zoo curator John Donaho explained, "We have had live snakes in the exhibit, but they don't do well. They tend to die. Rather than kill snakes, we put out a rubber one for people to be able to see what they look like." The zoo's confession came after a concerned caller reported he hadn't seen the snake move in months. The zoo subsequently received a box from an East Coast zoo containing another rubber coral snake as well as "breeding loan" documentation.
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There are several variations on this theme, but the priciples are the same.