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.
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.
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.”