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Watch: A circus elephant runs loose in a Montana town before being recaptured

A screenshot of a video from the website Storyful shows an elephant walking through Butte, Mont., after escaping from a nearby circus on Tuesday.
Storyful/Screenshot by NPR
A screenshot of a video from the website Storyful shows an elephant walking through Butte, Mont., after escaping from a nearby circus on Tuesday.

Updated April 17, 2024 at 5:44 PM ET

An escaped circus elephant named Viola was seen weaving through traffic and striding across parking lots in Butte, Mont., on Tuesday, a getaway that was captured in several videos shared widely on social media.

Kristin Parra, a spokesperson for the Carson & Barnes Circus, said Viola was having her routine bath when she was startled by a truck backfiring and ran away.

Viola crossed a busy street, ducked behind a casino and reportedly began to eat grass before she was returned.

Parra said the circus was "upset" that Viola was scared but also "grateful that she remained calm and no injuries were sustained to her or any other bystanders."

Sheriff Ed Lester, with Butte-Silver Bow Law Enforcement, confirmed in an email to NPR that neither Viola nor any people nearby were hurt during the escape.

"The elephant was walking in the street for a block or two but was then loaded into a trailer by circus staff," he said. "Glad it ended well and as far as I know the show went on as scheduled!"

A local official told CBS News that the elephant caused minor damage to a storage area at the Butte Civic Center.

Viola was reportedly in town to perform as part of the Jordan World Circus, which had a showscheduled in Butte on Tuesday, according to its website.

Jordan World Circus head elephant handler Armando Loyal told Montana Public Radio that Viola was getting washed in a parking lot of the Butte Civic Center when a truck backfired and startled her.

Loyal said handlers were able to catch the elephant and load her back into a circus truck within 10 minutes of her escape.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) saidin a statement that Viola had escaped at least twice before — once in 2010 and again in 2014.

The group said it filed a complaint over Tuesday's "potentially fatal" incident with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urging the agency to investigate the Carson & Barnes Circus and asking that Viola be examined for any injuries she may have sustained during the escape.

Butte resident Mataya Smith told NBC Montana that passersby handled the presence of the rogue elephant well.

"We have plenty of experience with bison, not to get too close and not to interact too much and to stay within a safe distance. So I think it was probably safer for her to get loose here because we all kept our distance," Smith said. "Everybody slowed down, backed up when she was coming towards them."

She added that the elephant's handler tried to gently guide the animal back to the circus.

"They waited very patiently with her and just kind of petted her and gave her comfort and calmed her until the truck came by," Smith said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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