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tbilisi hippo
Photo by Ana Grigolia

Can the Tbilisi Hippo Become the Symbol of Georgia’s Flood Recovery?

Zoo animals roaming the streets of Georgia’s capital have come to signify the disaster. Can they now help with the clean up?

Scenes reminiscent of Noah’s ark emerged from Tbilisi at the weekend as heavy floods swept through the town and breached the walls of the Georgian capital’s zoo.

Pictures of animals dominated the front pages – a freshly tranquillised hippo wandering through the streets; a bear perching on top of an air conditioning unit – and the world was gripped by the drama.

By Wednesday an escaped tiger had killed one person and wounded another before being shot by the authorities.

Less talked about was the human cost of the disaster. The latest figures suggest 20 people died with several still unaccounted for, with significant damage to the city and an increasingly politicised situation on the ground.

Tblisi residents are angry about alleged government incompetence in the aftermath of the floods, and on Wednesday many took to the streets in solidarity with the city’s zoo keeper, who had been questioned by the police over the tiger attack. Social media is also full of derision for Georgian politicians.

One of the campaigns adopting the mascot is the Tbilisi Hippo Fund, which will divide donations in half – sharing the money between the zoo and the people affected by flooding.

“We thought that the hippo would work as a unifier for people to get behind,” said Adrian Scoffham, the founder of the fund.