FACT CHECK: Did Animals Escape From A New Jersey Zoo When Remnants Of Hurricane Ida Passed Through?

Elias Atienza | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook over 150 times claims animals recently escaped from Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey.

Verdict: False

The animals did not escape from Turtle Back Zoo, according to local authorities and the zoo.

Fact Check:

The remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the Northeast on Sept. 1, killing at least 22 people and causing major flooding in parts of New York, New Jersey and other states, the Associated Press reported. Amid the storm, Facebook users were sharing screen grabs of a text message alleging various animals had escaped from a zoo in northern New Jersey.

“Animals from Turtle Back Zoo (West Orange 07052) are fleeing the zoo premises,” claims the text message. “Animals listed: penguins, lions, bears, otters, gorillas, and reptiles. Any exotic animals seen please call local animal control services immediately so we can return animals back to the zoo safely.”

The Turtle Back Zoo, however, stated on Twitter Sept. 2 that “all of our animals and animal areas weathered the storm well and remain safe and secure within the facility.”

“We appreciate everyone’s concern about our animals and staff during the storm,” the zoo tweeted. “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.”

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. published a statement on Facebook Sept. 2, saying the viral online claim that “animals have left Essex County Turtle Back Zoo is unequivocally false.” He tweeted the same statement.

“Turtle Back is an accredited facility that takes the care and welfare of our animals very seriously,” reads the statement, in part. “In advance of Hurricane Ida, our animal care team secured all the animals indoors and staff remains on grounds to monitor the situation. 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.”

Philip Alagia, chief of staff for the Essex County Executive, further confirmed to Check Your Fact in a phone call that the claim is false, saying, “Some people emailed and texted us with concern – ‘Hey, you know about this? Is this true?’ It does get people alarmed. The other thing, as bad as it is, we’ve got fatalities in Essex County on the flood, and the last thing we need is people worried about things that are not true.”

He also told Check Your Fact the zoo’s front office had a “little bit of flooding,” but it did not affect the animals. (RELATED: Does This Photo Show A Real 7-Headed Snake?)

One iteration of the false claim was tweeted out by a Twitter account masquerading as belonging to CNN. The Twitter account has the wrong handle – @CNNBRNWS rather than @cnnbrk, the actual handle for CNN’s breaking news account – and lacks a blue verification badge, indicating it is not affiliated with the network.

Elias Atienza

Fact Check Reporter
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