Emergency managers have to deal with many unusual problems during a disaster. Floods in particular can cause some very strange situations when things that should remain buried suddenly surface. But a recent flood in Tbilisi, Georgia, posed a problem that, while not necessarily unique, is certainly uncommon.
Torrential rains over the weekend caused a landslide that blocked a local stream. The backed up water eventually broke through, causing the Vere River to overflow and flood the Tbilisi Zoo which is situated along the banks of the river. While many of the animals drowned, a number managed to escape, including a hippopotamus that swam out of its enclosure and was founding eating the leaves of trees in the central Heroes’ Square. Also escaped were a number of bears, lions, tigers, jaguars and wolves. The hippopotamus was recovered after being shot with a tranquilizer dart but a number of the other animals were reportedly shot by police. In all, four lions, three tigers and two jaguars were either drowned or shot while four lions, three tigers, and one jaguar are still missing.
This poses an interesting problem for responders. While no one disputes the need to shoot an animal if it is attacking, how do you balance the competing interests of public safety and the need to recover as many animals as possible? Do you impose a shoot-on-site order? What happens if the animal is not threatening but is hampering rescue efforts by its presence in the area? What message do you send the public?
It’s an interesting problem. Have you checked your zoo’s emergency plans lately?