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Animals didn’t escape zoo in NJ storm

September 2, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Images show that a variety of wild animals are loose in South Orange, New Jersey after they escaped overnight from the Turtle Back Zoo when the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused flooding at the facility.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. These images are old. Turtle Back Zoo tweeted on Thursday that its animals “weathered the storm well and remain safe and secure within the facility.”

THE FACTS: Lions, crocodiles, penguins and gorillas are not roaming the streets of South Orange, New Jersey, despite a hoax that was circulating widely the morning after severe flash flooding in the area.

“Breaking: Reports of escaped animals circulate throughout South Orange, New Jersey after the TurtleBack Zoo (@TurtleBackZoo) is severely flooded,” a Twitter account impersonating CNN wrote early Thursday morning. “Local authorities advise all South Orange residents to stay home until the animals are returned back to their homes.”

The post, which was accompanied by images of animals seemingly wandering loose on city streets, spread to Instagram and Facebook later Thursday.

But reverse-image searches prove that the images are old. A photo of a pack of lions wading into a street appeared in reports about India’s Gujarat region in 2019. A photo of penguins gathering on a dark, slick sidewalk hails from South Africa and has circulated online since 2013. A photo of a crocodile stalking toward cars is from coastal Australia in 2019. And an image of an ape-like creature standing in a street has appeared online since 2014, when it sparked both skepticism and bigfoot theories after it was shared in a Facebook group for residents of Anaheim Hills, California.

The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey, confirmed the reports were fake Thursday morning, writing on Twitter that zoo staff secured the animals indoors before the downpour.

“We appreciate everyone’s concern about our animals and staff during the storm,” the tweet read. “Staff stayed through the night to monitor. There was no loss of power and all of our animals and animal areas weathered the storm well and remain safe and secure within the facility.”

The zoo declined further comment.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.