Lions and tigers and bear – oh my! Several tigers, a hippo and countless other wild species are running loose or dead in the capital of Georgia, the former Soviet republic, after flooding destroyed the zoo and enclosures destroyed freeing an estimated 600 animals, with about half of them still missing. Residents are being told to stay indoors because the animals have not been fed and are more likely to attack.
The Georgian capital, Tbilisi, experienced hours of heavy rain that turned the normally mild stream through the city into a raging torrent and the neighboring River Vere to breach its banks. The flooding in the city, which has approximately 1.1 million residents, has killed at least 12 people and destroyed or damaged dozens of houses as well as the entire zoo.
The Tbilisi Zoo is a disaster area as heavy flooding destroyed animal enclosures and a large portion remains underwater. Animals, like bears, a crocodile, a wild boar, wolves, penguins and monkeys, fled the zoo; others may have drowned in the submerged areas or the flood itself. Three zoo workers, including one who recently returned to work after losing an arm in a tiger attack, were found dead on the zoo grounds (They have not yet indicated whether they died in the flooding or by fleeing animals.).
At this point, they do not know how many animals they might actually be looking for. With the exact number of and types of animals loose, authorities have urged people to remain inside given the wild animals possibly roaming the area. The animals were not fed in the rain or since the flood, so many may be hungry enough to attack humans or other species they encounter.
The government launched what could be called a big-game hunt with armed special forces patrols combing the city by foot and helicopter looking for escaped or dead animals. Many were hunted down and killed by officials. Photos showing carcasses of a tiger, a boar, a lion and a pony have emerged. The zoo has also indicated that several wolves and penguins are dead.
Some have accused authorities of using unnecessary force to deal with the situation. A Zoo director reported that one of the facility’s favorite attractions, a rare white lion, was found shot in the head. Zurab Gurielidze said, “It’s simply possible that someone exceeded his authority” in killing the young lion, Shumba.
A hippopotamus, a species that can be aggressive and deadly, was tranquilized while wandering down a city street. Video footage was released showing area residents helping to lead the animal up the road before it was completely subdued.
The zoo is the most visible and dramatic area damaged, but the flooding in Georgia also destroyed or damaged a lot of the Tbilisi infrastructure. Many roads and structures are damaged and areas are still dealing with large pools of water.
Tbilisi (from an Old Georgian word Tbili for warm) is located in the Caucasus area between Europe and Asia. At various times in known history, the city has been under Persian, Byzantine, Arab, Mongolian, Iranian and Russian control before becoming an independent country.
As the waters from the flooding in Georgia recede, more will be known on which zoo animals are really running loose and which died in the disaster. The destroyed Tbilisi Zoo will also have to figure out where to house the traumatized animals who survived.
By Dyanne Weiss
People: Zoo Animals Roam Free After Deadly Flooding in Georgia Capital: ‘It’s an Unbelievable Tragedy’
Washington Post: Zoo animals escape amid flooding in former Soviet republic
Zee News: 10 shocking images of bears, lions roaming Tbilisi streets after Georgian floods