Georgia police shot and killed a Bengal tiger today after it escaped from a truck and wandered along a major interstate near Atlanta, frightening residents of a nearby subdivision.

Feld Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne said Suzy, a 6-year-old Bengal tiger that had once performed in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, somehow got loose when the truck hauling 14 big cats stopped south of Atlanta on its way from Florida to Tennessee.

"We stopped in Georgia to feed and water the cats and for a quick rest break for the driver, and that's where we believe the animal escaped and was later confronted by law enforcement," Payne said.

Suzy was headed back to its European owner, animal handler Alexander Lacey, after the circus this year ended its 146-year run, Payne said.

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"They've been raised around people their entire lives, so they're comfortable around people," Payne said.

Motorists spotted the tiger along Interstate 75 in Stockbridge, southeast of Atlanta, Henry County police said. The interstate was jammed with traffic as people flee Hurricane Irma that could hit Florida or the Gulf Coast.

The cat ended up in a subdivision, where it began chasing a dog, police said.

The tiger jumped on the dog - a Dachshund named Journey, its owner Brittney Speck told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The dog survived the attack and is okay, she said.

The cat was shot after it "became aggressive toward pets in the area," the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said.

Payne said he didn't know how the tiger managed to get free mid-way through the trip to Tennessee, and didn't have many details of its encounter with police. The driver did not realise one of the animals had got loose during the night until the truck arrived in Tennessee, he said.

The remaining 13 cats were to be transported to Germany. "I believe they will be joining another circus," Payne said.

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-AP