The claim: Animals escaped from a New Jersey zoo during a storm
The remnants of Hurricane Ida struck New Jersey on September 1, leaving neighborhoods, roads and parking lots submerged and at least 27 dead.
In the aftermath of the storm, images were shared on social media allegedly showing exotic animals roaming the streets after escaping from the Turtle Back Zoo in Essex County, New Jersey.
“Rupture: Reports of escaped animals circulating in South Orange, New Jersey after TurtleBack Zoo was severely flooded,” reads Tweeter from the “CNN Breaking News” Twitter page, which was shared as a screenshot to Facebook on September 2.
“Yes, please stay indoors,” the user captioned the Facebook post, which was shared 900 times in a week. Several versions of the claim include photos of different animals such as a lion, a crocodile and penguins walking down a flooded street.
Other users shared a screenshot of an alleged textual warning that said penguins, lions, bears, otters, gorillas and reptiles “are fleeing the zoo premises.”
“I can’t believe I’m in Atlanta and there’s a real jumanji in New Jersey,” one Instagram user wrote in the text alert on September 2.
But that never happened. The animals stayed safe at the zoo during the storm, and photos shared with the claim were captured years ago.
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Social media users who shared the post did not return requests for comment.
Turtle Back Zoo says no animals escaped
September 2, Turtle Back Zoo took to twitter thank people for their concern and cover up rumors that animals had escaped from the zoo.
“Staff stayed overnight to watch,” the tweet read. “There has been no loss of power and all of our animals and animal areas have weathered the storm well and remain safe in the facility.”
Likewise, Essex County Director Joseph DiVincenzo released a statement on September 2 saying reports of animals fleeing the Turtle Back Zoo were “unequivocal” and that the zoo had not lost any power.
In addition, the “CNN Breaking News” Twitter page included in the posts is a parody account, according to the page biography. The page shared the post on Twitter on September 2, as a joke, but many users who shared a screenshot of the tweet on other platforms believed it was an authentic report.
This is an example of “stolen satire,” in which fabricated allegations posted and labeled as satire are captured via a screenshot and reposted in a way that makes them appear legitimate news. As a result, readers of the second-gen post are being misled, as was the case here.
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The photos were taken years ago
Independent fact-checking organizations have traced the origin of the photos of the animals and reported that the images had been circulating online for years.
The photo of the lion crossing the street was taken in India in 2019, when lions roamed the streets of Gujarat after heavy rains, according to India Today.
The image of the penguins was taken in 2016 in a seaside suburb near Cape Town, South Africa, and it can be seen in a BBC Earth article with the caption “Penguins on the streets of Simon’s Town”.
The photo of the crocodile was taken in 2019 during a flood in Townsville, Australia. And the image of the gorilla appeared in a November 2014 Orange Country Register article titled, “Anaheim Hills Residents Laugh at Sighting Gorilla-Like Creature.”
USA TODAY has previously refuted similar claims that animals escaped from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago during protests against racial injustice in June 2020.
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Our rating: False
Based on our research, we find the claim that animals escaped from a New Jersey zoo FALSE. The Essex Zoo and County said the reports were not true and all animals were secured before the storm. The page that first shared the claim is a parody account, and the photos used in support of the claim have been circulating online for years.
Our sources of fact-checking:
- Turtle Back Zoo, September 2 Tweeter
- NorthJersey.com, September 2, No, Tropical Depression Ida did not free the animals from the Turtle Back Zoo
- Joseph DiVincenzo, September 2, Facebook post
- @CNNBRNWS, accessed September 7 Twitter
- @CNNBRNWS, September 2, Tweeter
- Associated Press, September 2, Animals did not escape the zoo during the NJ storm
- India Today, September 14, 2019, After crocodiles, lions invade the streets of Gujarat. Watch a scary video
- BBC Earth, 2016, Penguins in the city
- The New York Times, February 4, 2019, ‘unprecedented’ flooding in Australia forces hundreds to evacuate
- Orange County Register, November 14, 2019, Anaheim Hills residents laugh at sighting of gorilla-like creature
- USA TODAY June 10, 2020 Fact-check: Chicago’s LincolnPark Zoo was not robbed during protests
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