‘Worst nightmare’: Tiger and liger escape during tornado
TROUP COUNTY, Ga - The zookeeper who was tasked with finding and sedating a tiger and a liger that broke free during a tornado is sharing her wild story with FOX 5.
"I’ve never had that much adrenaline in my life," said Katie Harrison, the zoo director of Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari. "It’s every zookeeper’s worst nightmare."
An 8-year-old white tiger named Athena and a 7-year-old liger named Nika roamed around the Wild Animal Safari after Sunday’s tornado in Troup County busted open their enclosure.
Harrison quickly had to grab her dart gun and track them down through the badly damaged park.
"We got the liger pretty fast. I actually darted her out of my office window," she said.
Zookeepers frantically search for an 8-year-old white tiger named Athena and a 7-year-old liger named Nika after escaping during a tornado at the Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari in Troup County on March 26, 2023. (FOX 5)
That was the easy part, but Athena was still nowhere to be found.
"We searched the walkabout, going over and under tree branches," Harrison said. "We had two teams, each with tranquilizer guns."
Minutes later, they found Athena and tranquilized her.
Harrison breathed a big sigh of relief.
"We raised them from cubs," she said. "So, if something would’ve happened where we would’ve had to put them down, it would’ve crushed me."
An 8-year-old white tiger named Athena and a 7-year-old liger named Nika, who escaped Sunday during a tornado, are safely in a temporary enclosure at the Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari in Troup County on March 31, 2023. (FOX 5)
Both are now safe and sound in another enclosure, while theirs is fixed.
But sadly, it was not completely a happy ending. The storm did claim five animals at the park.
"We had a singing dog, which is one of my favorites, a capybara, a fowler deer, a zebra, and a peacock," Harrison said, choking up. "It’s very hard to talk about.
A vet with Zoo Atlanta came down to check on the surviving 545 animals on the property, Harrison said.
Tornado cleanup continues at the Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari in Troup County on March 31, 2023. (FOX 5)
The park remains closed as workers mend the fences and clear the mess. Harrison said they hope to at least have the drive-through open in early April.
"This whole thing is just been an emotional roller coaster because I’ve been here 10 years," she said. "This is my home. This is my baby, this whole place is my baby."