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Photos do not show elephants raiding farm amid coronavirus quarantine

March 19, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Elephants took advantage of the quarantine around the coronavirus in China and raided a farm where they got drunk off corn wine. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Images of wild elephants amid plants on a hillside are not related to the coronavirus quarantine. 

THE FACTS: Two photos circulating on social media falsely identified as showing elephants on the loose because of restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus are being misrepresented. 

One of the photos was used by Yunnan Network, a news website, in a  June 19, 2019, story about how to better manage and protect Asian elephants. The photo was credited to the Yunnan Province Elephant Management Bureau, which researches elephants. There’s no mention of the elephants being drunk.

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The other photo, which shows two elephants lying down in a field, was not featured in the news article, but the scenery matches that of the one used by Yunnan Network. Markings on the two elephants also match those of elephants in the published photo.

Social media users on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram claimed the photos showed the elephants roaming in a field due to social distancing from the coronavirus. 

“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,” claimed one tweet circulating the photo. The post had nearly 200,000 retweets and close to a million likes.

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, movement has been restricted to varying degrees around the world, with China enacting some of the strictest measures.  

The elephants in Yunnan province frequently raid the crops of farmers from villages in the area, according to a March 9, 2019, story by The Associated Press that looked at efforts to protect them. Wild Asian elephants are critically endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536