Israeli veterinarians arrive to Tbilisi, to help salvage devastated zoo

A team of Israeli veterinarians are in Georgia after a severe flood destroyed the capitol city's zoo and killed 16 people.

Rihanna the rhino at the Safari Zoo (photo credit: RAMAT GAN SAFARI)
Rihanna the rhino at the Safari Zoo
(photo credit: RAMAT GAN SAFARI)
A day after severe floods ravaged the Tbilisi Zoo, prompting predatory animals to flee toward city streets, a team of Israeli veterinarians arrived in the Georgian capital to lend a hand to zoo officials.
“All the infrastructure in the lowest part of the zoo was also destroyed,” Dr. Igal Horowitz, head veterinarian of the Ramat Gan Safari and the director of the Israeli Wildlife Hospital, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from Tbilisi on Tuesday. “It’s quite a catastrophic situation for them.”
Wreaking havoc for human residents of the nation’s capital as well, media reports said the flood had resulted in the deaths of 16 people by Tuesday. Among the fatalities were three zookeepers, Horowitz said.
Horowitz landed in Tbilisi Monday night along with the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo’s head veterinarian, Dr. Nili Avni-Magen, on a trip sponsored by the Foreign Ministry.
In addition to providing advice to zoo officials, Horowitz and Avni-Magen brought medicines, anesthesia and other medical supplies – most of which were destroyed by the floods, according to Horowitz.
Joining the Israelis was a delegation of volunteers from the Czech Republic.
“All the animals in the lowest level of the zoo drowned or escaped. The rest of the animals were OK,” Horowitz said. “The main problem is all their drugs also drowned.”
Over the past two days, nearly all of the animals that had escaped during the disaster were shot and killed, with just one hippopotamus and two wolves tranquilized and safely returned to their home, he explained.
As of midday Tuesday, Horowitz said four animals were still missing, likely drowned in the massive amounts of water and mud that deluged the city.
Later that afternoon, however, zoo officials announced that the carcasses of missing lions and tigers had been accounted for; only one jaguar remained at large, according to media reports.
The zoo officials discovered that eight lions, seven tigers and at least two of three jaguars were killed, while just two of 14 bears and eight of 17 penguins survived, reports said.
“That’s the worst nightmare a zoo staff member can ever think about – animals roaming in the streets and escaping their enclosures,” Keren Or, a zoologist at the Ramat Gan Safari’s Zoological Center, told the Post on Tuesday.
“It’s also devastating that so many animals must be killed because there is no way to capture so many dangerous roaming animals. It’s simply not possible and not safe. It’s really very, very sad.”
After spending the day at the zoo on Tuesday, Horowitz described the site as filled with “a lot of confusion, a lot of destruction.”
He and Avni-Magen plan to stay in Tbilisi until Wednesday, predominantly to provide moral support, he said. The two veterinarians also met with Israeli Ambassador to Georgia Yuval Fuchs.
“We will ask them tomorrow if we can give them a hand and if there’s something else we might do,” Horowitz added. “We told them if they need anything, like gloves or anything else, we will be delighted to help them.”