After the flood

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REUTERS/Beso Gulashvili

"The flood killed at least 12 people and partly destroyed Tbilisi Zoo, killing dozens of animals, while 30 more — including tigers, lions, and bears managed to escape from their cages. On that night the capital of Georgia was as I'd never seen it. Among the escapees roaming the streets were a rare breed of the white lion cub and six wolves, which roamed through the grounds of a children's hospital. The zoo is right in the center of the city, between the state broadcaster and Tbilisi State University. Heavy rains had turned the Vere river that flows near the zoo and through Tbilisi into a torrent that washed away buildings, roads, and cars. The enormous amount of mud and debris under my feet meant that making even a small movement was very difficult while shooting photos.

I was there from 11:30 pm. This photo was shot at 6 am the next morning; my memory card was almost full so I had only a couple of shots left. This situation was totally different from any I'd experienced before as a photographer. In the past, all my reporting experience had been negotiating with people; this was the first time I worked with animals. I was smiling as I took this photo of Begi, as I discovered it was called. I had bought a watch for my 14-year-old daughter in that shop just two days before the flood. And there was a hippo in front of it. There was only one complicated escape route available to me in case Begi decided to attack. There were very few people around, as police had shut down the area. The distance between the hippo and me was about 25 meters, but I realized that even for an animal as powerful as this one it was also quite difficult to move forward in such mud. I was also reassured that armed police would protect me in case of attack. Today, Begi is arguably the world's most famous hippo."



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