Why should you be wary of these videos of animals 'frozen to death'?

A series of videos from Kazakhstan have gone viral since early January. They purport to show animals who have frozen to death while walking in the snow. But there is nothing authentic about these videos, which veterinarians say are staged.

The 'frozen' animals in Kazakhstan.
The 'frozen' animals in Kazakhstan. © Observers

The videographer films a snowy landscape featuring dogs, cats, rabbits, sheep and other domestic animals who have apparently frozen to death. In most of the videos, someone kicks the animals, causing them to fall over. As the videographer speaks Kazakh, viewers are led to believe the events are taking place in Kazakhstan.

One video published on YouTube and viewed nearly 30,000 times includes three clips: the first featuring a sheep, the second two dogs and a rat, and the third featuring a goat. The video is entitled "Animals in Kazakhstan froze after temperatures reached 51 below zero" [Editor’s note: Celsius].

Where were these videos filmed?

The events took place in remote areas. According to Sputnik Kazakhstan, the person filming the sheep video says "January 6, 2021. In Zhansugurov, a sheep froze on the spot".

The editorial staff of the Observers of FRANCE 24 were able to geolocate one of the three videos. The video briefly and partially shows the skyline: it shows a mountain range (in light blue), two large buildings on the right (in red and orange), and a row of electric poles (in purple). Here is a panoramic view of the horizon:

Panoramic view generated from the video
Panoramic view generated from the video © Observers

The village of Zhansugirov has an industrial zone with a sugar production plant. It has two main buildings that correspond to the shape seen on the horizon: a long building (in red) with a raised roof (in yellow), a building of similar height (in orange) with a very high chimney (in green).

Screenshot of the video (left) and satellite imagery of the factory (right)
Screenshot of the video (left) and satellite imagery of the factory (right) © Observers

Thanks to this promotional video of the factory and aerial images, these visual clues can be verified. The factory is filmed from the opposite side.

Screenshot of the promotional video
Screenshot of the promotional video © Observers

The video was taken next to a row of electric poles (in purple), close to the mountain range (in light blue). It is therefore possible to locate the most likely location (white cross) of the author of the video along this path, 2.2km from the factory. We have determined that the video was therefore taken in the village of Zhansugirov.

Satellite imagery of Zhansugirov, wide angle (left) and close up (right)
Satellite imagery of Zhansugirov, wide angle (left) and close up (right) © Observers

'Animals can't die while on the move'

According to veterinarians contacted by the Observers, it is scientifically impossible for animals to freeze to death while in motion, regardless of the outside temperature. 

The extreme meteorological condition of -51 degrees Celsius mentioned in the title of the video is exaggerated: such low temperatures have not been recorded in the country since the beginning of the year. Only the capital, Nursultan, experienced a drop to -35 degrees Celsius on January 3, the weather history shows.

According to veterinarians quoted in the Kazakh media, there is nothing natural about the positions of these animals. "When animals are cold, they curl up into a ball and fall asleep forever. But not while they’re moving," veterinarian Kristina Taran told Tengri News, a statement confirmed by her practice to the Observers. 

According to Taran, the dogs froze to death while lying down, because their paws are very close together. She also assumes that animals are usually filmed only on one side so as not to show the other, where their fur would be flattened.

In the sheep video, we can see snow on the right side of the animal, suggesting that it froze while lying down.

Contacted by the editorial staff of FRANCE 24 Observers, Lillia Sarsenova, head of INUCOBO, a charity advocating for the protection of animals in Kazakhstan, thinks she has an explanation for these videos: 

"This video is fake because they use animals that are already dead and put them upright to make it look like they were frozen in motion. These are people in villages who do this. They are pranks, very stupid pranks. This kind of video has already been published last winter and even the one before, so we know that people do it regularly".

Indeed, in 2018, similar videos appeared on social media. The Vesti website had already described them as "jokes", without further proof. But they had been seriously covered by other media, such as the Daily Mail in the UK.

For the time being, the editorial staff of the Observers have not been able to identify the creator of the video nor the day it was filmed or for what reasons.