Carcasses of wild beasts that have been shot dead or killed litter the muddied streets of Tbilisi as their great escape comes to a tragic end.
Flash flooding in the Georgian capital had destroyed the animal’s enclosures at Tbilisi zoo and turned it into a ‘hellish whirlpool’, leaving them free to roam the streets in scenes reminiscent of a Hollywood disaster movie.
Today, the clean-up operation began to clear the carcasses of bears, tigers and wolves that all lay in a heap in the murky sludge of the capital city’s streets.
But there was some welcome news as the hippopotamus that was cornered and subdued with a tranquilliser gun was returned to the zoo in good health.
Thirteen people have already died in the flash floods, including three workers who were employed at Tbilisi Zoo.
One of them was Guliko Chitadze, a zookeeper who lost an arm in an attack by a tiger last month. The husband of zookeeper Ms Chitadze also died in the flooding.
Clean up crews today discovered the body of an elderly man in his home, the Interior Ministry confirmed.
Residents have been warned to stay indoors and particularly away from the area next to the zoo as a number of wild beasts are still unaccounted for, with fears they could be wandering the hills of the Georgian capital.
The zoo was still trying to determine what had happened to four lions, three tigers and one jaguar that escaped.
Helicopters continued to circle the city hunting for big game to track down the hungry and dangerous animals.
Residents in the Georgian capital – home to around 1.1million people – fear they might attack as they become more desperate in their search for food.
Khariton Gabashvili said: ‘The daytime wasn’t bad. But everyone has to be very careful at night because all the beasts haven’t been captured.
‘They haven’t been fed and in their hungry state they might attack people.’
Davit Narmania, the mayor of Tbilisi, called the situation ‘very grave’.
The flooding also killed about 60 of 300 homeless dogs at a private shelter near the zoo, shelter staff said. Volunteers were working at the shelter on Monday to care for the remaining dogs and repair the kennels.
Police with rifles were still searching the hills off Tbilisi 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 were also reports of people using their hunting rifles to shoot animals they see and the zoo has urged authorities and members of the public to spare the animals instead of shooting them.
Tbilisi Zoo director Zurab Gurielidze said: ‘In the case of a predator attacking a man, its liquidation is understandable. But many cases have to be explained.
‘I know for sure there was no order to kill issued. Just maybe someone has exceeded the authority.’
He demanded an investigation into the shootings of zoo animals.
‘If a predator attacked a person, then it’s understandable, but there are cases that need looking into’, he said.
A post on the zoo’s Facebook page added: ‘We beg, if somewhere you see an animal, don’t kill it. Just call us.’
Mzia Sharashidze, a spokeswoman for Tbilisi Zoo, said that ‘a large part of the zoo is simply non-existent. It was turned into a hellish whirlpool’.
She said 20 wolves, eight lions and an unspecified number of tigers, jackals, bears and jaguars had been shot dead or were still missing from the zoo. ‘Only three out of our 17 penguins were saved,’ she added.
Six wolves were shot dead at a children’s hospital yesterday, as a bear was seen clinging on for life on an air conditioning unit of a second floor building above a flooded street.
Heavy rain began on Saturday evening, turning the Vere river that flows through the hilly city into a surging river that swept away cars and buildings, flooded squares and damaged power lines.
They also caused a landslide on the Tskneti-Betania road outside the capital. Sixteen people were rescued by police helicopter from Akhaldaba, outside Tbilisi, where the rains had damaged roads.
Several main roads were destroyed and half a dozen coffins in a city cemetery were washed out of the ground.
Rescue workers were searching submerged buildings yesterday to check for trapped residents and the clean-up operation resumed today with people working together to dig out cars wedged in the mud and clear the carcasses of the fallen beasts.
It is estimated the floods have caused £6.5million worth of damage.
The Georgian government declared today a day off from work and school while the search for the missing and the cleanup work went ahead in Tbilisi, a city of 1.1 million people.
Prague Zoo, which suffered from the devastating flooding that hit the Czech capital in 2002 and again in 2013, sent a team to Tbilisi today.
‘When we learned about the situation in Tbilisi Zoo, we started to work out how to help,’ Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek said. ‘Based on our experience with the floods, we decided to create a team of curators to travel to Georgia’s zoo to help take care of the animals.’
In a bizarre admission yesterday, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church was quoted by the Inferfax news agency as blaming the floods on the ‘sin’ of Communists who he said built the zoo using money raised from melting down the monastery’s church bells.
Patriarch Ilia II said: ‘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 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.’
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.
Today has been declared a national day of mourning.