Lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other zoo animals run loose in streets after flooding hits Tbilisi
TBILISI, June 14: Massive flooding in Tbilisi killed at least three zookeepers and eight others Sunday, as a hippopotamus, a lion and wolves roamed the streets.
Portions of the central city were on lockdown as police tried to locate zoo animals that had escaped, The Washington Post reported.
Georgian police officials said on tiol television that 11 people had been confirmed dead and that more 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.
A zoo spokeswoman said bears, lions, tigers, jaguars and wolves were among the animals that escaped.
One hippopotamus fled to a central city street. Photos showed it reaching up to eat leaves off trees before a crowd of people cornered it and an animal control officer shot it with a tranquilizer dart.
Torrential rains late Saturday and early Sunday poured down on Tbilisi, a hilly city that is along a river valley. The Tbilisi Zoo lies along the banks of the Kura River, which overflowed and caught the animals in their pens and cages.
Helicopters were flying over Tbilisi on Sunday, and a rescue effort could be seen underway at the zoo, where debris and mud had overwhelmed many of the enclosures. Other parts of the zoo still were underwater.
“I can’t imagine this tragedy,” said Tbilisi Zoo spokeswoman Mzia Sharashidze. “Almost the whole zoo is underwater.”
She said tigers, hyes and eight lions had disappeared, among many other animals. Six of 17 penguins were saved; the rest washed away. One crocodile was captured; the other was in sight of zoo workers, but they were uble to reach it as of midafternoon on Sunday.
Sharashidze said there had been a plan several years ago to move the zoo to an expanded location on the Tbilisi Sea, an artificial reservoir. But that plan was abandoned for fincial reasons, she said.
Authorities here appeared ill-equipped to handle the unusual situation. At the Tbilisi State University, which is on a hill above the zoo, a hye was fatally shot next to a small guard house.
Guards said that the hye had chased one guard across a park on Sunday morning. The guard locked himself in the shed and called the police.
Police killed the animal because they had no tranquilizer darts, the guards said. The hye was splayed on the ground, with foam coming out of its mouth. Flies buzzed on its face. Guards warned visitors to leave quickly because they feared more animals were on the loose. About 1.1 million people live in the Georgian capital.