With the coronavirus pandemic bringing a halt to daily life and sending several cities and countries into near-total lockdown, several positive stories of animals reclaiming public spaces and running free in the absence of humans went viral.
With Italy under lockdown, it was said that the waters of the canals in Venice had magically cleared. Viral videos showed swans and dolphins swimming in the canals of deserted Venice. It was liked by a million people.
Here's an unexpected side effect of the pandemic - the water's flowing through the canals of Venice is clear for the first time in forever. The fish are visible, the swans returned. pic.twitter.com/2egMGhJs7f— Kaveri 🇮🇳 (@ikaveri) March 16, 2020
Another viral video showed a group of elephants who allegedly got drunk on corn wine and passed out in a tea-garden in Yunan, China.
While humans carry out social distancing, a group of 14 elephants broke into a village in Yunan province, looking for corn and other food. They ended up drinking 30kg of corn wine and got so drunk that they fell asleep in a nearby tea garden. 😂 pic.twitter.com/ykTCCLLCJu— Corono she better don’t (@Spilling_The_T) March 18, 2020
The stories became massively popular across the world and brought cheer to thousands stuck under quarantine and isolation at home. It turned out, however, that the videos were not real at all.
As per a fact-check conducted by the National Geographic, the animal videos were mostly fake. In Venice, though the water was clearer due to lack of boating and human activity, no swans or dolphins had "returned" to the canals as had been written in the viral video. The swans seen in the video are regulars in the canals of Burano, not Venice, which is where the footage was shot. As for the dolphins, the report said they had been filmed in a Sardinian port, not Venice.
Chinese reports have also debunked the viral drunk elephant video, stating that though a group of elephants did enter a village in Yunnan province, they were not the same as the ones captured in the images, and they definitely did not get drunk or pass out in a tea garden after that. In fact, the reality was not as cute as the animals allegedly went on rampage and caused damage to homes and property. As for being drunk, the animals seemed to have knocked over some alcohol but there is no evidence of them "getting drunk" on corm wine.
I’m afraid the drunk elephants story is almost certainly fake. Some elephants did rock up in a village but the “drunk” pics circulated on WeChat & are unrelated. However, I stumbled across this old piece, & this sentence has made up for my disappointment. https://t.co/BoAt6HujEO pic.twitter.com/LFjZdlcUQZ— Hannah Jane Parkinson (@ladyhaja) March 19, 2020
With the coronavirus pandemic claiming over 13,000 lives worldwide, misinformation and fake news have spread as fast as the virus itself. And this is not the only time that fake news stories about animals went viral during COVID-19. In the initial days of the outbreak, several videos of such as pigs being slaughtered in China went viral.