Fact or fiction? Nature stories going viral due to COVID-19

Nick Watkins
Apr 7, 2020

While we’ve been locked away in isolation thanks to COVID-19, viral nature stories from around the world have been sweeping social media.

Mother Nature has indeed been given some much-needed breathing space, and with so much doom and gloom around at the moment we’re thirsty for some good news, but should we believe everything that we’re seeing online?

Ever the opportunists, online pranksters have been using this time to trick people into believing phony nature stories of wildlife flourishing. There have been pictures of swans and fish in the Venice canals, lions loose in the city, and elephants lost in fields.

Here, we’ve broken down what COVID-19 nature stories are real and what’s just, well, fake news.

FACT: Clear skies over China

Less air travel, less cars on the road and less demand for oil has seen greenhouse gas emissions dip, as much as 25% in the last month in places such as China – the world’s largest carbon emitter. Experts have warned however that the amount of energy being used by people at home is likely to rise significantly, increasing a household’s carbon footprint.

FICTION: Elephants partying in Yunnan, China

The story went that because people were stuck inside these free-roaming elephants had a little too much to eat and drink in a village in Yunnan, China before falling asleep in a tea plantation. A great story, but one that was ultimately debunked by experts. Shame.

FACT: Gazelles roaming the streets in Jebel Ali

Nature stories, like the gazelle roaming the streets of Dubai have been plentiful

The reem gazelle is hard to spot in Dubai, unless there is no people around it seems. Despite their dwindling numbers, the majestic animal has been spotted freely roaming the streets in Jebel Ali, presumably on the hunt for food. It’s a rare sight indeed, with the species having been officially declared vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation.

FICTION: Russia unleashing 500 lions in the street

Some strange things go on in Russia, so much so that people actually believed the ‘breaking news’ that over 500 lions had been set loose on the street to ensure people were staying off the streets during the pandemic. Ludicrous, we know, but this Photoshopped picture was retweeted over 8,000 times on Twitter (and liked over 40,000 times) including by Lord Sugar to his 5.3 million followers. No wonder fake nature stories travel so fast.

FACT: Oman cownose rays in Marina & Business Bay

Yes it’s true, the waters of both Dubai Marina and Business Bay have been awash with the wildlife including a visit from the Oman cownose ray. Often found swimming in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the Rhinoptera bonasus have been filmed by passers-by as they enjoy the boat-less waterways during lockdown. The creatures swim in circles to unearth food on the seabed.

FICTION: Swans returning to Venice

There have been a few rumours going around about nature and Venice, and while we’d love them all to be true sadly they’re not. Let’s start with reports of swans returning to the water, which isn’t exactly true. You see, swans can often be found swanning around in the canals of nearby Burano, which is where the photos were actually taken. So while it’s great news that they’re there having a great time, it’s not got anything to do with COVID-19.

FACT: Clear canals in Venice

Thankfully this one is real, with hundreds of canal boats and motorboat taxies now moored, the famous waterways of Venice have had a chance to breathe and the clarity of the water has improved immensely. Fish have been enjoying the downtime and can now be seen from the pathways, which isn’t always the case. A family of ducks have even made a nest along the canal, something almost impossible for them to do a few weeks ago.

FICTION: Dolphins in Venice canals

We’re in Venice again! This time it’s dolphins that have taken to the canals to enjoy the sights with no tourists getting in the way. Sadly, like the swans, it’s not true. Despite a post of twitter going absolutely viral, claiming to be in Venice, the footage was in fact taken in Sardinia, which if you’re wondering, is about a 13-hour drive away, which the dolphins have decided is too far.

Keep that wanderlust alive and explore more travel tips and inspiration from World Traveller Middle East. For those seeking the latest health updates regarding coronavirus, ensure that you are consuming information from an official source