Zoo animals loose after floods hit Georgian capital

Last modified: 6/14/2015 11:26:45 PM
Escaped lions, bears and a hippopotamus from the Tbilisi Zoo were roaming the streets of the Georgian capital yesterday, after flooding killed at least 10 people.

Georgian leaders asked residents to stay inside as they sought to track down the escaped animals, which were adding a chaotic element to an already painful human situation. The hippopotamus swam out of its enclosure and onto the central Heroes’ Square, eating leaves off a tree before being shot with a tranquilizer dart in front of a Swatch store.

The animals on the loose created an unpredictable backdrop for rescue efforts. Rescuers used rafts and inflatable boats to reach people trapped by flooding. At least one lion and one bear were shot and killed by police officers, and a hyena chased a security guard across part of a university campus before it, too, was shot dead.

Officials said the flooding in the Georgian capital was the worst natural disaster in recent memory.

Tbilisi Mayor David Narmania said on national television that 10 people had been confirmed dead so far and more were missing. Many of the zoo’s animals also perished or were missing.

“The situation is rather difficult,” Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said. “We haven’t seen anything like this in Tbilisi before.”

Among the dead was one zoo worker, Guliko Chitadze, who had an arm amputated two weeks ago after a tiger mauled it. She had returned to work just a few days ago. Her husband, also a zoo worker, was also killed, zoo spokeswoman Mzia Sharashidze said. Sharashidze said bears, lions, tigers, jaguars and wolves were among the escaped animals.

“I can’t imagine this tragedy,” she said. “Almost the whole zoo is underwater.”

Torrential rains late Saturday and early yesterday poured down on Tbilisi, a hilly city that is along a river valley. The Tbilisi Zoo lies along the banks of the Vere River, which overflowed and caught the animals in their pens and cages.

Washington Post

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