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Circus elephant injured in Tupelo drive-by shooting

3:51 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephant is recovering after being shot Tuesday in Tupelo. / File/The Clarion-Ledger
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By Emily Le Coz / The Clarion-Ledger

An elephant with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was injured in an early morning drive-by shooting in downtown Tupelo on Tuesday but is expected to make a full recovery.

The elephant, one of several performing with the traveling circus, was in an enclosure outside the BancorpSouth Arena when it was hit by a bullet in the shoulder, said the arena's marketing director, Kevan Kirkpatrick.

"We had have the circus once a year since 1995," Kirkpatrick said. "Absolutely this is the first elephant shooting we had."

A security guard on the scene was able to provide some information to the Tupelo Police Department, which is investigating but "leads are pretty slim," said Tupelo Police Capt. Rusty Haynes. "We're dealing with a victim that can't talk."

The department has been in touch with state and federal wildlife authorities and, because the Asian elephant is an endangered species, the crime will be pursued as a federal offense under the Endangered Species Act, Haynes said.

In addition, he said, federal government might provide reward money for information leading to the conviction of the responsible person or persons.

Circus staff and a local large-animal veterinarian immediately calmed the large pachyderm after it was shot and provided it medicine. Within 20 minutes, the animal was walking around the pen and eating carrots, Kirkpatrick said.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is flying in its own veterinarian to follow-up on the elephant's health. Company spokeswoman Melinda Hartline couldn't immediately confirm the gender or age of the elephant and said the circus would release more information later.

According to its website, Asian elephants can weigh up to six tons and eat up to 200 pounds of hay daily. The company also has a conservation program for these creatures.

"This is not who Tupelo is," Kirkpatrick said. "This doesn't represent our building or our town or our region and we hope the Tupelo Police Department apprehends these folks as quickly as possible and that they are punished to the full extent of the law."

The circus will go on as scheduled, with shows set to start Thursday and run through the weekend.

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