A video montage with millions of views purports to show lions, gorillas and other animals running wild in Paris, France, amid unrest over the fatal shooting by police of a Black teenager. This is false; the clips in the compilation are all outdated and unrelated to the riots, with only some taking place in France.
“Like France what’s going on? can anyone explain this?” says the caption on a July 3, 2023 TikTok viewed more than 3.8 million times.
Screenshot from TikTok taken July 6, 2023
The 52-second video compilation spread as riots flare in and around the French capital city after a police officer killed a 17-year-old of Moroccan and Algerian descent, identified as Nahel M., during a traffic stop June 27, reviving longstanding complaints about police brutality and racism.
Stew Peters, a far-right radio host known for promoting conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 vaccines and other topics, shared the video on Twitter, writing, “Did the African migrants release the Paris zoo animals so they’d feel more at home?” Other posts sharing individual clips from the compilation also rocketed across platforms.
Screenshot from Twitter taken July 5, 2023
But none of the clips are current — and many were filmed in countries other than France.
“These images, accompanied by misleading information, were filmed during incidents that took place several years ago, in France or abroad, with animals not coming from zoos,” Mathieu Descombes, a spokesman for the Parc Zoologique de Paris, told AFP in a July 6 email.
“The Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle ensures that no animal from the Paris Zoological Park or the Ménagerie, the zoo of the Jardin des Plantes is wandering in the streets of Paris or the municipalities of Ile-de-France,” Descombes said. “The safety of animals, visitors and Parisians is fully ensured by the teams and infrastructure.”
The mash-up opens with a scene of lions trodding down a street filled with stalled cars.
Using reverse image searches, AFP found the same footage posted in October 2020 on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms (archived here, here and here). Some captions say it shows Knowsley Safari Park, a tourist attraction near Prescot, England.
AFP also found the license plate on a car shown in the vehicle — styled in the format of British plates — was registered in the United Kingdom.
Ian Duke, the park’s marketing manager, told AFP in an email: “The lions in the video at both 0.00 and 0.35 are filmed here at Knowsley Safari.”
A third clip of lions, which shows a pride of them walking a street at night, is also misrepresented in the online posts.
A zebra and ponies
Another scene shows a zebra racing down a street, followed by two ponies and someone riding a motorized bike.
Reverse image searches reveal the video dates to April 2020 (archived here), when the animals escaped into the suburbs of Paris from a circus in Ormesson-sur-Marne, France, according to news reports. The French newspaper Le Parisien published the footage on YouTube (archived here).
The viral compilation then shows a rhinoceros puzzling onlookers in the middle of a street.
AFP identified signs, including for the Hotel Peacock and the clothing store Coshelee, confirming the location in Nepal.
After the rhinoceros, the video flips to shots of an elephant stomping across traffic.
A scene of a goat trotting solo along a road at night also predates the recent riots.
The footage has been online since at least January 2023, when it was posted to TikTok (archived here). AFP could not determine where the TikTok video was filmed, although the men in the shot can be heard speaking in French.
The montage goes on to show a swan in the middle of a bridge.
AFP could not verify the original source of the clip, but the warmly clothed people suggest it is not current — and it does not show France.
AFP geolocated the footage to the Legion Bridge near the National Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic (archived here). A police van visible in the clip matches those used in Prague, and the tram seen zipping by is tram number 9357, which operates along that route.
The next clip in the video shows a wolf lumbering along a sidewalk.
The footage continues with a clip of three gorillas rounding the corner of a building.
The TikTok says one of the gorillas is Shabani, a silverback from the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya, Japan. AFP previously reported on the great ape’s celebrity status in Japan, where visitors fawn over his looks and muscles.
Another scene showing a flock of ostriches racing down the street, meanwhile, dates to January 2022.
A camel and a cow
Finally, the viral compilation shows shots of a camel and a cow on the street.
By identifying signage for a Mercure Hotel and a pedestrian sign matching those used in France, AFP geolocated the footage to a bike path in Gennevilliers, in the northwestern suburbs of Paris (archived here).
AFP has previously debunked other misinformation about the riots in Paris here.