Zoo animals roam Georgian capital of Tbilisi after deadly floods.

Tigers, Lions, Hyenas, and a Hippo Roam Georgian Capital After Deadly Floods

Tigers, Lions, Hyenas, and a Hippo Roam Georgian Capital After Deadly Floods

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June 14 2015 11:18 AM

Tigers, Lions, Hyenas, and a Hippo Roam Georgian Capital After Deadly Floods

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A hippopotamus walks along a flooded street in Tbilisi on June 14, 2015.

Photo by Beso Gulashvili/AFP/Getty Images

Several dozen zoo animals—including tigers, lions, a hippopotamus, wolves, and hyenas—escaped from the zoo in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi on Sunday after heavy flooding destroyed their cages and set them free. More than 30 animals escaped from the zoo, according to Reuters, although it’s far from clear how many are still missing. The floods have killed at least 12 people, including three zoo employees, reports the Associated Press. There are no reports that any of the deaths were due to animal attacks.  

REUTERS/Beso Gulashvili
A man shoots a tranquilizer dart to put a hippopotamus to sleep at a flooded street in Tbilisi, Georgia, June 14, 2015.

The escaped animals were adding a “chaotic element” and “unpredictable backdrop,” as the Washington Post puts it, to the rescue efforts. At least one lion and one bear were killed by police officers, while the hippopotamus that managed to escape was shot with a tranquilizer dart. “A hyena chased a security guard across part of a university campus before it, too, was shot dead,” reports the Post. Almost all of the zoo’s penguins were killed in the flooding as well, as zoo workers were only able save six of the 17.

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Local residents push a hippopotamus along a flooded street in Tbilisi on June 14, 2015.

Photo by Beso Gulashvili/AFP/Getty Images

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Even as officials are warning people to stay inside, they’re also saying the volatile situation has given rise to lots of hoaxes online. Photographs of an alligator swimming past parked cars and a bear perched on an air-conditioning unit that have been posted on social media are fake, according to officials. “The search for animals continues, but a large part of the zoo is simply non-existent. It was turned into a hellish whirlpool,” a zoo spokeswoman said, according to AFP.

The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church blamed the country’s former communist rulers for the tragedy. “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. “The sin will not go without punishment.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.