herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Zoo animals on the loose as flooding kills 10 in Georgia

A man directs a hippopotamus after it was shot with a tranquilizer dart at a flooded street in Tbilisi
A man directs a hippopotamus after it was shot with a tranquilizer dart at a flooded street in Tbilisi
The body of a bear lies at a flooded area in Tbilisi, Georgia
A bear tries to save itself from a flooded zoo area in Tbilisi, Georgia

Lions, tigers, 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 stay inside.

At least 10 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 tranquilliser gun, the zoo said. Some other animals have also been seized and it remains unclear how many are on the loose.

Bears and wolves are among the other animals who fled their enclosures amid the flooding from heavy rain and high winds.

The severe weather turned a normally small stream that runs through the hilly city into a surging river. The flooding also damaged dozens of houses.

fatalities

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.

City mayor David Narmania told journalists that 10 people are known to have died, with 10 others missing.

Helicopters are circling the city and residents have been told to stay indoors except in an emergency. About 1.1 million people live in the capital.

The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as telling a Sunday Mass that Georgia's former Communist rulers could be seen as involved in 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," he said.

"The sin will not go without punishment. I am very sorry that Georgians fell so that a zoo was built at the expense of destroyed churches."

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