This ‘hand-washing’ orangutan went viral—but the story isn’t true
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more false animal stories are making the rounds. Long-term, the tales could undermine conservation efforts.
In November, the Center for Great Apes, a Florida sanctuary, posted a playful video to YouTube of resident orangutan Sandra scrubbing her hands with sudsy water. Then, a couple weeks ago, staff thought it would be cute and relevant to re-share the video to Twitter.
From there, a social media game of broken telephone ensued. People grabbed the video and reposted it with their own captions, draining it of context and—perhaps inadvertently—twisting the message. The story transformed: Sandra started washing her hands, it was said, because she saw her keepers doing so repeatedly during the COVID-19 crisis.
A lie was born, and ran rampant through social media.
Patti Ragan, the center’s founder, removed the video from the sanctuary’s YouTube channel on