Carol the circus elephant back in Springfield; victim of drive-by shooting

12:49 PM, Apr 11, 2013   |    comments
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(NEWS LEADER) -- The owner of an elephant wounded in a Mississippi drive-by shooting said Thursday morning that the animal is back home north of Springfield and doing well.

Elephant owner Brett Carden was nearby when someone allegedly shot the 39-year-old Asian elephant named Carol in the neck at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Miss. He said the shot was loud, comparing it to an AR-15 rifle.

"She never went down one time," Carden said. "She didn't know she was shot, really."

Carol was standing and doing well Thursday, Carden said. Missouri State University professor and veterinarian Dr. Dennis Schmitt traveled to Mississippi to care for the animal.

"Where the bullet hit ... is an area with no major organs or blood vessels," Carden said.

Carden said he watches elephants overnight while traveling with the circus and heard the shot. He then saw a man who ran off. A security guard was on-scene during the shooting.

"It was scary," Carden said.

He and his dad, George Carden, loan elephants to circuses. Carol was performing in a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show, he said.

Recovery from the wound will take three to four weeks, Carden said. Carol won't travel to shows for six to eight weeks.

Tupelo police Captain Rusty Haynes said the department is working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the investigation. Possible charges range from state to federal violations, though the department hasn't decided what route to take.

"This is a very serious offense," said Haynes, who oversees the detective division.

Police are actively seeking a silver or white Ford Explorer with tinted windows seen in the area around the shooting, Haynes said. Roadways circle the arena.

"I don't think it was random," Haynes said. "(The suspect) deliberately intended to shoot the elephant."

He said there have never been problems with circuses in Tupelo before. "This is a first, unfortunately," Haynes said.

A reward for information relating to the shooting has reached $26,250, Haynes said. Brett Carden said rewards have been offered by his father George Carden, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ringling Bros. and other organizations.

Schmitt, the veterinarian caring for Carol, has been working with the Cardens for about 20 years. In addition to working for MSU, he's chair of veterinary services and director of research with the animal stewardship department at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, according to the circus' Center for Elephant Conservation website.

Brett Carden and his wife own Carol along with six other elephants. George Carden, who started the circus quarters near Willard where Carol is recovering, owns three.

Brett Carden said his dad started caring and boarding elephants after working with the Shrine Circus years ago.

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