Burnt tigers, rescued kangaroos: Online misinformation about Australia's bush fires debunked

Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk holds a koala he rescued from a burning forest on Kangaroo Island, Australia, on Jan 7, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Tiger burns in Australia's bush fires? It's a 2012 photo from Indonesia. Young girl rescues koala? Actually an artist's impression. Social media is packed with powerful images of Australia's bush fires - but many are fake.

As deadly blazes tear across south-eastern Australia, false or deliberately misleading images and claims have proliferated online, in languages from Arabic to Hindi.

AFP Fact Check works to debunk online misinformation. Here is a selection of recent fact checks on the deadly blazes:


A graphic photo that appears to show a tiger being devoured by flames has been shared tens of thousands of times in Facebook posts decrying the deaths of millions of animals in deadly Australian bush fires. Some estimates do indeed put the death toll from the blazes at nearly half a billion animals.

But the image is actually a 2012 photograph of a stuffed tiger that was burned by the Indonesian authorities during a crackdown on wildlife smuggling.


An image of a young girl in a gas mask clutching a koala in front of a giant wall of flames and smoke has been shared tens of thousands of times in Instagram and Facebook posts that claim it is a real photograph.

But the image was actually created by artist Thuie.

"My work was intended to represent what we are going through right now - the fires, the people affected by these fires and the masks that those who live in endangered areas must wear, and the fact that animals are as affected as humans," the artist told AFP.

The image was created primarily from a photo of her daughter standing in water, she added.


Two viral videos showing women cuddling a kangaroo have been viewed tens of thousands of times in social media posts that claim they show the aftermath of a bush fire animal rescue.

"The kangaroo is so grateful that (it) just can't stop hugging the person who saved its life!" the posts claim.

But the claim is false: The videos were actually filmed at a kangaroo sanctuary located in Australia's Northern Territory, which has not been affected by bush fires.

The sanctuary, which has more than one million followers on Instagram and regularly posts pictures and videos of their rescue animals, told AFP that both videos show Abigail, a kangaroo who has lived at the sanctuary since being rescued as a joey in 2006. "We don't have fires here thankfully," the sanctuary told AFP in an e-mail on Tuesday (Jan 7).


A video of Australian firefighters celebrating in the rain was viewed millions of times online after being tweeted by British newspaper The Sun on Monday. The footage has been shared on Facebook in multiple languages, including Spanish and Sinhala, with many users claiming it was shot in January 2020 and shows new rain bringing relief to weary Australian firefighters.

But the video is being shared in a misleading context: It was actually filmed in November 2019, according to the fire brigade who originally posted the footage on Facebook.


A dramatic photo of a woman and five children half-immersed in water next to a jetty under a bright orange, smoke-filled sky has been shared repeatedly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, in posts that claim "this is happening in Australia right now". But the photo was actually taken in 2013 during bush fires in Tasmania.

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