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No, Putin hasn’t put 800 lions, hyenas on Russian streets to keep people in homes during coronavirus pandemic

“President Putin Releases 800 Lions And Hyenas In Russian Streets To Keep Everyone Home,” reads the headline of an article shared on Facebook in Nigeria. 

It says this is one of the Russian president’s “early and aggressive measures” to “stop the mass spread of coronavirus”.

But the article’s photo of a lion on a city street looked familiar to us at Africa Check. We investigated.

Lion in Kenyan city? Lion in South African movie shoot

The story is on Musbizus Blog, a Nigeria-based site that seems to publish mostly false articles. The claim also appears in another Facebook post. The blog post is undated, but the Facebook post was published on 21 March.

The photo has nothing to do with Russian president Vladimir Putin – and we’ve investigated it before.

In December 2019, we fact-checked a claim that a lion was roaming the streets of Mombasa, Kenya. This claim used the same photo of a lion. But the photo was taken on a film set in 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa, just down the road from the Africa Check’s office. 

While it’s been covered up by a banner in the Musbizus Blog article, the street name “Jorissen” can be seen in the bottom left corner of the photo posted on Facebook, painted on the curb. Locals will recognise it as Jorissen Street in Johannesburg’s inner-city neighbourhood of Braamfontein. 

We’re all working from home because of Covid-19, so we confirmed where the photo was taken using Google Maps. The screenshots below make it clear that this lion was not walking the streets of Russia.

A news article from 2016 shows more photos of the lion, Columbus, on set. Columbus was borrowed from Lion and Safari Park, in Gauteng province, whose animals have been featured in TV adverts and blockbuster films.

Are we sure Putin hasn’t released any dangerous wildlife?

There are other clues that the claim on Facebook and Musbizu’s Blog is false. 

First, it’s inconsistent. Musbizus Blog claims that 800 “lions and hyenas” have been released in the body text of the article, although the banner across the photo mentions “more than 500 lions”. The Facebook post says “800 lions and tigers” have been “dropped” on Russian streets.

Second, no major news outlets have reported on the story. Even major Russian news sites like the Moscow Times have not mentioned it in their reporting on the new coronavirus and Covid-19.

Most telling of all, CNN published an article on Russia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the blog post has been copied word for word from the CNN article, but not the claim about wild animals. 

It’s a false story, published and shared to drive visitors to Musbizus Blog. – Keegan Leech

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