Internet users have been mesmerized by a video of a turtle that “cries like a human” since it started circulating online in early August. It turns out, however, that the video's sound was doctored.
The clip shows a man holding a turtle that appears to wail just like a distressed human being. The handler explains that the animal is an alligator snapping turtle but does not address the supposed crying.
One of the most popular posts was from “Lo Bianco,” a social media user who hails from Congo-Brazzaville but is now based in Paris. He shared the video on August 7 and since then, his post has been viewed more than 200,000 times and shared more than 3,500 times. Lo Bianco claims the creature is a “wigu” and he spins quite a tale:
[This animal] is found in Arab cemeteries where it burrows between tombs. It eats dead bodies and cries just like a human.
It should be noted that when this animal is eating and senses someone approaching, it emits a human cry, which terrifies the person into imagining they are hearing the screams of the dead, causing them to flee and leaving the wigu to continue its meal in peace.
The video has been posted on Facebook with similar captions since early August in languages including French, Portuguese and English. Back in June, it also circulated on social media in India. Several Observers readers forwarded the clip to our team on WhatsApp and Twitter, asking if this turtle could possibly be for real.
What's the origin of the video?
In the top left corner of the video and at the bottom right, you can see a credit for the person who made it: @mdanford1105. He uploaded it to Tik Tok, a social network that started in China and allows users to both edit and share videos easily.
The post on @mdanford1105’s Tik Tok account indicates that the sound effect of a man’s scream was added to the video. Also, if you look at the hashtags-- like “comedy”-- it’s pretty clear that he meant this video to be humorous and was not trying to fool anyone.
Actually, there are quite a few comedy videos on Tik Tok that use this exact same scream sound effect, pairing it with a whole bunch of different animals and objects. One example shows a wailing bonsai tree, while another shows a screaming bulldog.
The sound effect "scream, man" has been used repeatedly with different objects.
So what is an alligator snapping turtle, exactly?
So it turns out that “wigus” don’t exist. As the handler in the video explains, the animal is actually an alligator snapping turtle, which is native to the United States and can weigh up to 100 kilos (around 220 pounds).
The story about this animal eating human corpses is also made up, of course. In reality, alligator snapping turtles use their impressive jaws to eat crustaceans, fish and small birds. While snappers have given human beings some pretty substantial injuries (like in one case in Germany in 2013), there haven't been any recorded deaths.
Our team at the France 24 Observers found the handler, who is an employee of Crocodile Encounter in Texas.He asked not to be named, but explained that the video was recorded in May by a tourist. He has seen the clip on the Internet and confirmed that “Obviously, snapping turtles do not scream at all. The only sound you will hear from them is a hiss, but not that loud”.
Alligator snapping turtles have been classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their natural habitat is under threat because of development and their numbers are in decline due to trapping and exporting by turtle traders.