Zoo animals on the loose and deaths feared after Georgia floods
Escaped hippopotamus shown cornered in Tbilisi square, as devastating floods reportedly kill 12 people and wild animals escape from city zoo.
Heavy rainfall turned the Vere river – which flows through the capital – into a torrent that swept away dozens of buildings and cars. At least 12 people have been killed, according to news agencies, while others are missing. The army has been mobilised to help.
“The damage is substantial,” the prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, told reporters. He also called on residents to stay at home as the search for the animals continued.
Carcasses of wild animals that have been shot dead litter the streets and tangled heaps of wreckage scar a large area around Tbilisi’s zoo after Saturday night’s flash flood.
The zoo itself has been almost totally destroyed, says its director, with most of its animals either drowned or shot after escaping. “It’s an unbelievable tragedy,” said Zura Gurielidze as he surveyed his stricken zoo park.
Three of his staff were among those reported dead in the disaster. Among them was 56-year-old Guliko Chitadze, who was attacked by one of the zoo’s tigers last month and lost an arm. She had just returned to work, telling fellow staff she did not blame the tiger for what happened. She lived in the zoo grounds with her husband, who died with her.
The escaped hippo was cornered in one of the city’s main squares on Sunday and subdued with a tranquilliser gun, the zoo said. Some other animals also have been seized, but it remained unclear how many were still on the loose.
Police with rifles were still combing the tree-covered hills above the zoo looking for the escaped animals as the remains of a hyena shot dead lay in the nearby grounds of Tbilisi State University. It had chased one of the staff, according to a police officer, who then locked himself in a shed and called for help.
There are also reports of people using their hunting rifles to shoot animals they see, and Gurielidze appealed for them not to, in case they could be saved. There were no immediate reports that any of the other fatalities were due to animal attacks.
Among the biggest tragedies for the zoo is the loss of a rare white lion called Shumba. It had become one of the zoo’s biggest attractions after they paired it with a dog to keep it company, after Shumba’s mother stopped caring for him. They became friends and could be seen playing and sleeping together right outside the zoo’s main offices.
Images on Tbilisi city hall’s Facebook page showed roads submerged by floodwater and landslides with many vehicles washed away, while rescue workers carried people on their shoulders through waist-high water. Such heavy rain is unusual for this time of year. But many say uncontrolled development in the area made things worse, with the drainage system overwhelmed. The zoo, situated at the bottom of a valley in the city, was right in the target of line of the surge of water that resulted.
The head of Georgia’s Orthodox church, Patriarch Ilia II, said the flood was punishment for the zoo being built by the country’s former communist rulers. “They ordered that all the crosses and bells in churches be melted down and the money used to build the zoo,” he said. “I am very sorry that Georgians fell so that a zoo was built at the expense of destroyed churches.”
Hippopotamus escapes zoo and wanders streets in Tbilisi after flash flood
Heavy rain in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi flooded a zoo and allowed a number of animals to escape and wander the city.
“Lions, bears, tigers and wolves were among at least 30 animals that escaped and were on Sunday roaming the streets. Local news agencies later reported more than half the animals had been returned to the zoo.
A dazed hippopotamus was seen wallowing in the central Hero’s square before being tranquilized and returned to safety.”
Tbilisi flash floods: Lions, bears and tigers roam Georgian capital as storm hits
Zoo animals loose in streets after deadly floods hit Georgian capital
Escaped lions, bears and a hippopotamus from the Tbilisi Zoo were roaming the streets of the Georgian capital Sunday, 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.”
About 1.1 million people live in the Georgian capital.
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. The workers had spent the night on zoo premises to feed newborn animals.
Sharashidze said bears, lions, tigers, jaguars and wolves were among the animals that escaped.
“I can’t imagine this tragedy,” she said. “Almost the whole zoo is underwater.”
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 Vere 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.
Sharashidze said tigers, hyenas and eight lions had disappeared, among many other animals. Six of 17 penguins were saved; the rest washed away. One crocodile was captured, and zoo workers were trying to reach another as of mid-afternoon 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 financial 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 hyena was fatally shot next to a small guardhouse. Guards said that the hyena 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 hyena 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.
The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church on Sunday blamed the disaster at zoo on Georgia’s former communist rulers, according to the Interfax news agency.
“When communists came to us in this country, they ordered that all crosses and bells of the churches be melted down and the money used to build the zoo,” Patriarch Ilia II said at a sermon. “The sin will not go without punishment.”
Lions, tigers and a hippo roam through Tbilisi after floods destroy zoo
Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals have escaped from the zoo in Georgia’s capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to say inside Sunday. At least 12 people have been killed in the disaster, including three zoo workers.
An escaped hippo was cornered in one of the city’s main squares and subdued with a tranquilizer gun, the zoo said. Some other animals also have been seized, but it remained unclear how many are on the loose. Bears and wolves are also among the animals who fled from their enclosures amid the flooding from heavy rains and high winds.
There were no immediate reports that any of the fatalities were due to animal attacks. The zoo said one of the dead was Guliko Chitadze, a zookeeper who lost an arm in an attack by a tiger last month.
As of mid-afternoon Sunday, it was unclear how many animals remained on the loose or what species they are.
“Not all the animals who ran away from the zoo have been captured. Therefore, I want to ask the populace to refrain from moving about the city without” an urgent need to, Mayor David Narmania said.
Heavy rains and wind hit Tbilisi during the night, turning a normally small stream that runs through the hilly city into a surging river. The flooding also damaged dozens of houses.
Zoo’s big-game animals roam city streets after rains flood Tbilisi
Police marksmen shot and killed escaped zoo animals in the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi today after flash floods destroyed their enclosures and enabled lions, tigers, wolves and other animals to break out.
Helicopters circled the city hunting for big game and the Georgian authorities advised residents to stay indoors while the search continued.
Six wolves were shot dead at a children’s hospital and a hippopotamus was cornered and subdued with a tranquiliser gun.
Animals roam streets of Tbilisi after flooding kills 12, frees zoo animals
Wild animals roamed the streets of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on Sunday, after raging floodwaters damaged the city’s zoo and set many of the animals free.
Twelve people died in the flooding, according to Civil Georgia, a news website run by the nongovernmental organization UN Association of Georgia.
Several others were missing, and wolves, bears, big cats and even a hippopotamus were wandering the streets of the city, according to Civil.ge, a news agency funded by the EU and the UN.
Of the zoo’s 600 residents, including fish and birds, about half were missing on Sunday, theTbilisi Zoo said.
Some animals have been recaptured, Civil.ge reported. Others have been killed.
Residents told to stay home
But some animals were still roaming loose. Video from the city shows what appears to be a crocodile slithering down the city streets, as well as a hippopotamus standing around looking confused.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs also urged everyone to stay indoors but said in a statement that the situation was “under full control.”
All efforts are being made to find the animals quickly, “give them injections,” and get them back into the zoo, the ministry said.
Two employees of the zoo were among the fatalities.
From a stream to a raging river
The problems began before midnight Saturday. Heavy rainfall turned the Vere River, normally little more than a stream through the center of Tbilisi, into a torrent, the news agency reported.
The raging river flooded significant portions of a highway, swept away cars and at least one small house, and flooded many other homes.
Images on Tbilisi City Hall’s Facebook page showed roads washed out, hillsides collapsed and vehicles tossed about like toys. Rescue workers carried people on their shoulders through waist-high water.
Police used a helicopter to evacuate 16 people from Akhaldaba, just west of Tbilisi, where heavy rain had damaged roads.
Tbilisi flood: Zoo animals still loose in Georgia capital
Heavy flooding in Tbilisi Sunday left possibly a dozen people dead and escaped zoo animals roaming the streets.
Lions, tigers, and bears, indeed.
Massive flooding in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, on Sunday set loose about half of the residents of the city zoo, among them big cats, wolves, hyenas, and a hippopotamus, multiple news agencies have reported. Up to 12 people may have been killed, three of whom were found in the zoo, and several have been reported missing. None of the reports so far have indicated that any casualties were due to animal attacks, however.
The floods came after heavy rainfall, which began before midnight Saturday, caused the local Vere river to swell and burst, flowing into parts of a highway and sweeping away cars and at least one structure.
“The situation is rather difficult,” Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said, according to The Washington Post. “We haven’t seen anything like this in Tbilisi before.”
Photos and video circulating in social media showed a lion roaming the city, as well as an alligator slinking down a flooded street. A hippo, which has since been tranquilized, was also spotted in one of the city’s main plazas.
Some of the animals, including a bear, a hyena, and six wolves found on the grounds of children’s hospital, were killed when they couldn’t be captured, according to The New York Times. Some residents protested the killings, but officials said the animals were too aggressive to be secured, the Times reported.
A full tally of the animals still loose was not immediately possible because large parts of the zoo remain underwater, the Associated Press reported.
“Not all the animals who ran away from the zoo have been captured.” Tbilisi mayor David Narmania said, according to the AP.
“Therefore, I want to ask the populace to refrain from moving about the city” unless absolutely necessary, he said. Among those missing were 20 wolves, eight lions, and several jaguars and tigers, the Times reported.
The flood has left thousands of people without water or electricity, dozens of families homeless, and at least 36 people injured, a local news agency, Agenda, reported. Preliminary estimates put the damages at $40 million.
Rescue efforts have been underway since early Sunday morning. Photos on Tbilisi City Hall’s Facebook page show rescue workers carrying civilians through muddy waters and pulling partly-submerged cars out of the muck. Police also airlifted 16 people out of Akhaldaba, west of Tbilisi, where rains led to damaged roads and a major landslide, according to Agenda.
Mayor Narmania has called on Tbilisi residents to help with cleanup operations in the city, while the prime minister has declared June 15 a day of mourning for the flood victims.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili has also expressed condolences to the victims’ families, visiting the parts of the city worst hit by the floods.
“It is a great tragedy when you lose a family member,” he said at a press conference. “The streets will be cleared. Everything will be restored. But unfortunately, it is impossible to return the people who fell victim to the elements.”
Zoo Animals on the Loose in Tbilisi After Flooding
Residents of Tbilisi, Georgia, were warned to stay off the streets on Sunday lest they encounter one of the lions, tigers, bears or other beasts set free from the city zoo after floodwaters devastated the center of the capital.
At least 12 people died in the floods and 24 were reported missing, according to Davit Narmania, the mayor of Tbilisi. “Not all the animals that fled from the zoo have been caught yet,” the mayor was quoted as saying by Russia’s Interfax news agency. “Therefore I would ask the population to avoid moving around the city except in cases of acute need.”
It was not immediately clear how many animals remained on the loose and how many had been killed in the floods. A burbling stream that feeds through a narrow gorge in parts of downtown Tbilisi turned into a raging torrent and burst its banks after heavy rains on Saturday night, local news reports said.
Images from the city underscored the anarchy. One showed people herding a hippopotamus along a street choked with mud, after it had been hit by a tranquilizer dart. Others revealed the corpses of animals amid the debris of wrecked cars and buildings. And a bear was pictured perched above the roiling waters on an air-conditioning unit.
A special police team was sent to the neighborhoods around the zoo to hunt for the roaming animals, according to local television reports.
Some of the animals were killed when they could not be captured, the report said, including six wolves found on the grounds of a children’s hospital, as well as a bear and a hyena. Some residents expressed indignation at those killings, but officials said some animals were too aggressive to be captured.
The director of the zoo, Zurab Gurielidze, called for an investigation into the killing of the animals. “If an animal attacked people, it’s one thing,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax. “I know that no order was issued to kill animals. Some policemen exceeded their authority.”
Zoo workers were quoted as saying that a full animal census was impossible because parts of the zoo remained under water, but a popular albino lion called Sumba was found shot dead on the grounds.
Helicopters were swooping low over the city to try to spot the animals. Those missing after the flood included 20 wolves, eight lions, and several tigers and jaguars, Interfax reported. Only three of 17 penguins survived, the news agency said.
One person who died while trying to save the animals, Guliko Chitadze, a 25-year veteran of the Tbilisi Zoo, had her arm amputated in late May after she was attacked by a tiger, Interfax said.
At a Sunday Mass, Patriarch Ilia II, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, told worshipers that the broad assault against the church by the country’s former Communist rulers lay at the root of the disaster.
“When Communists came to us in this country, they ordered that all crosses and bells of the churches be melted down and the money used to build the zoo,” the patriarch said, Interfax reported. “Therefore, the zoo should have not been built there,” he said. “Many didn’t know this, but sin will not go without punishment.”