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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tigers escape enclosures after storm damages Georgia zoo on Sunday

By Ben Brasch and Leo Sands Washington Post

Two tigers were briefly missing at a Pine Mountain, Georgia, zoo on Sunday after a probable tornado damaged the attraction Saturday night.

The Troup County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday morning that it had received a report that one tiger was “unaccounted for” at Pine Mountain Animal Safari, according to the office’s Facebook page.

“We have received a report from the Pine Mountain Animal Safari that they are reporting a Tiger that is unaccounted inside the park,” the sheriff’s office said about 8:30 a.m. It was not immediately clear whether this meant the tiger was within the park or had escaped from it.

Later Sunday morning, the drive-through zoo said two tigers were back in their enclosures after being on the loose for a couple of hours.

“Several animal enclosures were breeched, and two tigers briefly escaped. Both have now been found, tranquilized, and safely returned to a secure enclosure,” the zoo posted on Facebook about 11 a.m. No humans or tigers were harmed.

Troup County Chief Marshal Jorge L. Olmo Novoa, who oversees animal control in the area, told Fox 5 Atlanta that authorities “darted” the animals before bringing them back to their enclosures.

The National Weather Service on Sunday morning issued a tornado watch for Troup County, Ga., where the zoo is located. The attraction spans 300 acres and is home to 75 species of animals, according to the Pine Mountain website. Visitors can drive through a 3½-mile trail of free-roaming animals in what the website describes as a safari-like experience. Pine Mountain is in middle Georgia, about 75 miles southwest of Atlanta.

“We appreciate your concern and support during this difficult time. Pine Mountain Safari is committed to the safety of our employees, our animals, our customers, and our community,” the zoo posted in the later message.

The zoo posted to Facebook early Sunday morning that it would remain closed because it had “sustained damage” from a tornado Saturday night.

“We are working diligently to keep our team and animals safe and will update with more news as it is available,” according to the post.

No one answered a phone number listed for the zoo, and no one immediately responded to a Facebook message requesting comment Sunday morning.

A National Weather Service meteorologist said there were reports of downed trees and power lines along Oak Grove Road. The animal park’s address is 1300 Oak Grove Road.

The Georgia safari is home to Bengal tigers, according to information on its website. It was not immediately clear whether the escaped tigers were Bengals.

Tornadoes struck Mississippi and Alabama before appearing in Georgia this weekend, killing 26 people and destroying a yet-unknown number of buildings. Reports of large hail, heavy rain and damage to buildings in Georgia were emerging Sunday morning.