Real life Jumanji as floods free Tbilisi zoo animals

AT FIRST glance it looks like an escaped heifer running amok at a country fair – but the beast in question is a hippopotamus, one of a legion of dangerous animals – including tigers, crocodiles, lions and bears – to escape from a city zoo after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures.

A tranquilised hippo is rescued as Tiblisi was left devastated by freak floods. Picture: AP
A tranquilised hippo is rescued as Tiblisi was left devastated by freak floods. Picture: AP

In scenes reminiscent of 90s film Jumanji, residents in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi were warned to stay indoors after more than 30 dangerous animals became free. The flash floods killed at least 12 people including three workers who are employed at Tbilisi Zoo.

Dramatic videos of escaped animals were circulated on social media last night, including bears climbing telephone wires and a crocodile swimming along a flooded city street while cars drove by.

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Helicopters circled the city in a bid to track down all of the animals.

A bear in the destroyed zoo. Picture: AP

Among the zoo keepers killed 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.

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 were also seized, but it remained unclear how many were still on the loose last night. Bears and wolves were also among the animals that fled from their enclosures amid the flooding.

It was reported that six wolves were killed after they were found near to a children’s hospital.

There were no immediate reports that any of the 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.

“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.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili sent his condolences to the victims’ families as he visited the affected area to observe the clean-up operation

“The human losses that we have suffered are very hard to tolerate. I express my condolences to all the people who lost their relatives,” he said.

A full accounting of what animals were missing wasn’t immediately possible because a large part of the zoo remained underwater, zoo spokeswoman Khaati Batsilaishvili 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.

Mr Narmania told journalists that 12 people were known to have died.

It is estimated that the floods have caused £6.5 million worth of damage.

About 1.1 million people live in the former Soviet republic’s capital.

The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, told 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.”