On the night of 13th to 14th June 2015, a significant flood occurred in the Vere river valley in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Tragically, it resulted in 19 human deaths (including three zoo workers) and also struck the Tbilisi Zoo, leaving half of its animal inhabitants either dead or on the loose. In the end, the zoo lost more than 280 animals, nearly half of its inhabitants: the majority killed by flooding. Several surviving inhabitants of the zoo including a hippopotamus, some big cats, wolves, bears, and hyenas, escaped from their destroyed enclosures on to the streets of Tbilisi and a police unit was deployed to assist zoo staff with trying to recapture them. The lower part of the zoo was completely destroyed whereas the upper section, which was on higher ground, received much less damage and the animals were out of harm’s way. The Zoological Society of East Anglia was already helping at this early stage with a £2,000 donation to the emergency fund.
After almost two years of intensive repair and restoration work, Tbilisi Zoo is now thriving again. The popular central city animal park is now home to approximately 80 new animals that have been donated by zoos from all around Europe, who came to the aid of the zoo in its hour of need. This also included some animal collections in the U.K including Africa Alive!, who donated six Barbary sheep, a wild species of mountain ungulate native to rocky mountains in North Africa. All six individuals had been born at the park and ranged from 1½ to 3 years of age.
In order to meet the import health protocols required by the Georgian government, our sister collection Banham Zoo, very kindly offered to assist us with the transfer and held the animals in their quarantine facility prior to their departure, where they were inspected regularly by the zoo’s veterinarian and the necessary pre-transfer health testing requirements were carried out.
Finally, the day of departure arrived and on Saturday 1st April, the animals were moved from Banham Zoo to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport by road and ferry and after being transferred on to a flight to Tbilisi, they arrived in Georgia in the early morning of 3rd April. The final leg of the journey to Tbilisi Zoo was by road, where upon arrival, the animals were safely unloaded and given access into their new home looking fit and well.
This has been a real team effort and we are very pleased that both Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo have been able to contribute to the huge effort involved in helping the Tbilisi Zoo to once again, be in the position of playing an important role in helping to fulfil the city’s social, educational and recreational needs, as well as being active in the European zoo community and its associated conservation breeding programmes.