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No, Zimbabwean man not arrested with lion’s head in South Africa in 2023 – story is from 2021, and no evidence suspects were from outside the country

IN SHORT: Several social media posts in December 2023 claim that South African police arrested a Zimbabwean man for possession of a lion's head. They also claim that the man had US$350,000 on him. But this is not true.

“ZIMBABWEAN MAN CAUGHT WITH A LION'S HEAD IN ZEERUST,” begins a post on X (formerly Twitter) with over 390,000 views.

Zeerust is a town in the North West province of South Africa.

The post, dated 13 December 2023, said the man had been caught with the lion's head in a refuse bag, along with "$350,000 cash".

It includes images of what appear to be a lion’s head placed on a rock next to a black plastic bag, with people and cars in the background. 

The claim can also be found on Facebook here, here, here, here, here and here and on Twitter here, with over 346,000 views, as well as here and here. It was also posted on TikTok. 

But when and where were these photos taken and what do they show? 

ZimbabweLion_PFalse

Multiple inaccuracies, old news presented as new

The social media posts imply that the incident took place in December 2023, with some describing it as a “developing” story. But a reverse image search led us to news articles here, here, here and here, and social media posts here, here, here and here – all from 2021. 

In a statement dated 10 December 2021, the South African Police Service gave details of the incident. They said that two suspects had been arrested for possession of a lion’s head at a petrol station in Zeerust.

A blog post claimed: “The man was brought to the Zeerust police station for additional interrogation because it is suspected that he is an illegal immigrant.” 

But there was no mention of the suspects’ nationalities in the police statement or in any of the 2021 news reports. Police said the duo had "travelled from Thembisa in Johannesburg". Thembisa is a neighbourhood in Gauteng province.

According to the police statement, the two suspects intended to sell the lion's head to a traditional healer for R350,000.

“A police agent intercepted the sale by arranging a traditional healer and the suspects were arrested,” the statement said. 

The suspects were not carrying US$350,000 in cash, as the posts claimed.

The two were reportedly granted bail by the Zeerust magistrate's court in December 2021.

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