Russian President Vladimir Putin has done some wild things over the years, but he has definitely not unleashed hundreds of lions and tigers to keep his citizens indoors during a coronavirus lockdown.
Social media users have been buzzing about the bizarre — and fake — notion all weekend after several people shared an old photo with a made-up new headline about Russia.
The viral hoax appears to be circulating most rapidly in India, where there are considerably more lions and tigers than there are in Russia. Several social media posts compare India’s current two-week lockdown to Russia, where they suggest that Putin is taking a more iron-fisted approach.
“Vladimir Putin has dropped 800 tigers and lions all over the country to push people to stay home,” Twitter user Nasir Chinioti wrote on Sunday, in a tweet that’s been liked and shared tens of thousands of times. The tweet includes a photo of Putin and another of a lion standing in a parking lot at night.
Chinioti describes himself as a comedian in his Twitter profile, and he told one user that the photos were just a “joke.”
Global News has traced the photo back to a Daily Mail story from April 2016. The lion in the photo is pictured in Johannesburg, South Africa — not St. Petersburg or any other city in Russia.
Nevertheless, the photo has sparked a deluge of rumours online, and a flood of fact-checking stories from many India-based news outlets.
Many of the fake tweets appear to have used a website to add a “breaking news” frame to the image.
Fears of COVID-19 have sparked many new hoaxes and fake news stories, including several about animals and many others about false cures or preventive measures.