Two tigers briefly missing after Georgia zoo damaged by tornado

<span>Photograph: Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images

Two tigers briefly went missing from a Georgia zoo after a tornado struck the state on Saturday night and damaged the facility’s infrastructure.

In a Facebook post on Sunday morning, the Troup county’s sheriff’s office announced that it received a report from the Pine Mountain Animal Safari that a “tiger … is unaccounted for inside the park”.

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Safari officials announced that both tigers had been found a few hours later.

“Like much of [south-west] Georgia, Pine Mountain Safari sustained extensive tornado damage this morning,” park officials said. “Fortunately, none of our animals and employees were hurt. However, several animal enclosures were breached, and two tigers briefly escaped. Both have now been found, tranquilized and safely returned to a secure enclosure.”

They added: “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 in Pine Mountain, Georgia, spans 300 acres (121 hectares) and is home to 75 animal species, including Bengal tigers, according to its website. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the tigers that escaped were Bengals.

“The park is specially designed to allow an enjoyable safari experience from the comfort of a vehicle,” the facility’s website says. “The main attraction, the drive-thru park, is a 3.5-mile trail. There are no cages – the animals roam freely and may even approach your group.”

The brief escape of the tigers came after deadly storms struck some southern states over the weekend, killing at least 26 people and prompting the White House to declare a federal emergency.

On Sunday morning, the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for parts of Alabama and Georgia, including the western-central Troup county where the zoo is located.

In addition to tornadoes, the weather service also warned about the potential for scattered hail as large as tennis balls and isolated wind gusts up to 70 mph (112 km/h).