Viral impala picture is not a maternal sacrifice

30 July 2021
What was claimed

Picture of a gazelle looking calm while being killed shows a mother sacrificing herself to allow her children to get away. Taking the photo led the photographer to fall into a depression.

Our verdict

This is an image of an impala. The photographer says this is “a completely ridiculous fake story” and the image actually shows cheetah young practicing their hunting.

An image has been widely shared on Facebook, accompanied by a caption which says that the image shows two cheetahs attacking a “gazelle at a time when it was playing with its young children”. The posts say that rather than escape, the animal surrendered herself, in order to give her “youngsters” a chance to escape. There are also additional embellishments added to the story, for example, that taking the photo put the photographer into a state of depression. 

Wildlife photographer, Alison Buttigieg, who took the photo in 2013 in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, describes what really happened on her website. She said that the image showed a cheetah showing her children how to kill an impala, which is a type of antelope, not a gazelle.

“However they were a bit slow on the uptake and they were playing with the hapless Impala prey instead of killing it. Narasha, the cheetah mom is the one that is grabbing the impala by the neck in all the photos... 

“What is out of the ordinary in this sequence of photos is how calm the impala is throughout its ordeal. It is probably in shock and thus paralysed with fear.”

News site, DNA India covered the fake version of the story in February 2017. Ms Buttigieg told the site it wasn’t true that she’d suffered from depression, but that “it was just lies so that some people get more likes on their page.”

She added that “Hundreds of people are sending me messages about my fake depression and why I didn't save the deer. It’s been horrible. I have no idea who started this, I wish I knew”. 

She also addressed the “completely ridiculous fake story” on her own Facebook page.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because the image does not show a gazelle sacrificing herself for her children.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.