SOCIETY
“When they were tearing my flesh up, I felt pain that I did not know existed” - Zookeeper who survived a tiger attack tells her story
11 June, 2015
“I saw my own upcoming brush with death in a dream “I saw a dream of there being a pool of blood at the tigers’ cage. Someone got attacked by them and I saw two men taking the victim somewhere, but I couldn’t see who it was. I went and told Zura (Zurab Gurielidze, the zoo’s director) about this dream. As you know, there were cases when some youngsters tried to get into the enclosure and approach the tigers, which
ended very badly. I was afraid of my dream being a warning of some upcoming tragedy, and I kept warning everyone at the zoo, especially the guards, to keep a close eye on the tigers and watch for anyone trying to get to them. As it turned out, I saw my own upcoming brush with death in a dream, yet did not recognize myself. It is as if it was predestined,” remembers Guliko, occasionally shifting what remains of her amputated right arm. “It is a good thing that I did not lose everything above the elbow; this means that I will be able to use my prosthetic with greater precision and care for my little ones” she says with a smile.

“The tigers tried to grab my dress. Fortunately, it didn’t tear, but I fell down. One of them grabbed my arm, the other sank claws into my leg, and the third tried to drag me to the cage. I attempted to get away from them, closer to the wall, using my free hand.”

Guliko Kontselidze-Chitadze is Tbilisi Zoo’s main caregiver and nurse, who just a few days ago miraculously survived a fierce attack by a bunch of tigers. She is my long-time friend and while I knew of her robust and unbreakable spirit, what I heard from her in the hogeotv.gespital ward has exceeded my wildest expectations. Everyone who comes to her offering condolences, she brushes off, saying that there is no use crying over spilt milk. I’ll have to learn living anew one-handed, she says. She has no ire towards the tigers; moreover, she is convinced that the “stupid things were just playing with her” and did not understand what they were doing – even though, as she was being taken away from the enclosure, most of the flesh on her right hand was missing.
So what happened on that tragic day? I asked her about the details and this is what she told me:
“It all started when I heard a child cry. A little girl was standing over the lions’ and tigers’ enclosure and crying, while her father was trying to calm her down. I’ll buy you a new one, he kept promising. Apparently, the girl dropped her toy and it fell through the lattice. I also tried to calm her down, saying that father will get her a new toy; however, it only served to make the girl cry more. The father, driven to desperation by her tears, decided to come down and get the toy. I immediately recalled my dream and, horrified, offered to enter the enclosure and get it myself instead. According to the rules, I was not supposed to go inside even if someone dropped a bunch of gold ingots down there; but unfortunately, I am childless, and love children very much, so I could not bear to hear this girl crying so bitterly.
I entered the enclosure, and, before tigers could come up from the distant corner of it, managed to scoop up the toy and throw it upwards, for the girl’s father to catch. However, it seems that I got carried away and did not notice getting too close to the tigers. They tried to grab my dress. Fortunately, it didn’t tear, but I fell down. One of them grabbed my arm, the other sank claws into my leg, and the third tried to drag me to the cage. I attempted to get away from them, closer to the wall, using my free hand. The girl’s father started yelling and tried to follow me inside, geotv.gebut I begged him not to, telling him instead to run to the bear enclosure and bring Vaniko the vet to help me. Vaniko came running, but by that time my right hand was almost gone. When they were tearing my flesh up, I felt pain that I did not know existed. You know how painful it is to get a splinter into your hand, and what happened to me felt as if I got millions of huge splinters lacerating my body… I remember picking up my almost completely flensed forearm and throwing it aside. I almost blacked out, but I still could hear what was going on around me. I cannot describe both physical and spiritual pain I felt at having these tigers tear up the arm that raised their mother, Salima. Fortunately, she was right there, and once she realized that her cubs were doing something bad to me, she rushed in, gave them a couple of hard swats with her paws and drove them away from me. Her actions have pretty much saved my life, since the tigers, caught up in their brutal game, would have dragged me into their cage and torn me to pieces.
There are rumors that I was attacked by the very tigers that I raised. Don’t believe that. All the tigers raised by me, including these cubs’ mother, are all grown up and simply adore me; one of them has a habit of hugging me and dozing off that way, like a housecat. I was never afraid of the tigers I raised and they never displayed any hostility towards me. Animals are very sensitive to mother-and-child relationships and never forget them.”
Guliko’s condition improves daily, but despite the doctors fawning over her, all she thinks about is returning to the zoo. A die-hard animal lover, who, for absence of her own children, considers the zoo her second home, tirelessly raising little pups, cubs, kits and chicks. Before I bid her farewell, she told me that she was constantly thinking about the little monkeys she cared for: Ewasa, Marta and the cunning Troa. Apparently, when their beloved nanny did not show up as usual, the primates refused their food. Only Malkhaz Chitadze, Guliko’s husband, managed to persuade them to eat, in a hope that his appearance will be followed by her return.
This is what Guliko is like: an assiduous woman with a heart of gold. One would be hard pressed to find a more loyal friend than her.

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