Related topics

Lion not released on Russian streets to keep people home

March 24, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: A photo shows a lion Russian President Vladimir Putin released in the streets to keep Russians at home amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The photo was taken in 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

THE FACTS: Social media posts are circulating a photo of a lion walking on a street at night near a white car, claiming it shows one of the lions Russia’s president let loose in the streets to scare residents into their homes. 

A caption on the image reads: “Russia unleashed more than 500 lions in the streets to ensure that people are staying indoors during this pandemic outbreak. Vladimir Putin has released more than 500 lions for people to stay home.” 


The photo has been shared thousands of times on Facebook. 

But it wasn’t taken in Russia. The lion was in South Africa, where the feline was starring in a local film in April 2016, when that photo was taken. Caters News, a U.K. news and photo agency, published images of the lion with a story about the filming nearly four years ago. 

Photos of the lion, named Columbus, set off a social media frenzy back in 2016, with people questioning why the cat was strolling the streets. The Johannesburg Roads Agency later confirmed Columbus was part of the film’s production, but the film crew failed to notify proper authorities about the cat’s presence, Caters reported at the time. 

Russia has taken numerous measures, such as limiting flights, closing borders, vetoing Chinese and Iranian citizens, and quarantines. As of Tuesday, Russia had nearly 500 cases of COVID-19. 

Worldwide, as of March 24, more than 409,000 people have been infected and 18,000 have died from the virus. Most will recover.


This article is part of The Associated Press’s data verification effort to combat misinformation that is shared online, and includes a collaboration with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of fake news circulating on this social network.

Here you will find more information about the Facebook data verification program: