In Tbilisi, the capital of the country Georgia, which is between Russia and Armenia, lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other animals are roaming the streets after catastrophic flooding destroyed the enclosures of the main zoo late Saturday night, killing some animals and freeing others.
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.
Three zoo workers were reported dead and at least nine people had died in the floods. It is unclear if the people died from the flooding or animal attacks. At least 20 additional people were injured, while several were missing.
One of the dead was Guliko Chitadze, a zookeeper who lost an arm in an attack by a tiger last month.
Footage from Tbilisi showed a hippopotamus roaming the streets Sunday morning, which was cornered in one of the city’s main squares and subdued with a tranquilizer gun, as well as a bear taking refuge on a window sill and an alligator in the flooded streets.
Some other animals have also been captured by police while others were shot dead, according to the mayor’s office.
Some residents were upset at the killings, but officials said various animals were too aggressive to be captured and were regarded a danger to the public.
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 Russian news agency said.
“Not many animals are still on the loose but it is difficult to say how many are still out there,” zoo spokeswoman, Mzia Sharashidze told NBC News. She said that many of the animals were killed in the flooding or by special forces.
Six wolves were shot dead in a yard at an infectious diseases hospital, while a lion, hyena, and a wolf drowned in the floods.
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 because police did not have a tranquilizer gun.
Paul Rimple, a journalist based in Tbilisi, said the zoo estimated that around half of its 600 mammals, fish and birds had fled their enclosures amid the flooding from heavy rains and high winds.
“It’s so surreal. Helicopters are circling overhead and they’ve warned people to stay indoors but not everyone’s doing that,” Rimple said.
“People are walking around with their babies just a few blocks from where a wolf was shot in the south of the city. Apparently a jaguar was reported in the north. Until somebody gets mauled or killed, no one’s going to panic.”