It’s unknown, at the moment, how the elephant was able to get out of its enclosure and police suspect animal rights activists may have released it on purpose.
Animal rights groups have been campaigning for years to ban performing elephants because of the cruel methods used to train them.
Following the incident, the German branch of animal rights group PETA demanded that the elephant be removed form the circus. Police are investigating whether the elephant was released by someone.
“Baby” is a 34-year-old African elephant, which are known to be more aggressive than their cousins, the Indian elephant. According to reports in German media, the elephant has attacked and injured humans in the past.
“There’s evidence of third party involvement. Either someone forgot to shut the enclosure, or the elephant was released intentionally,” Heidelberg police spokeswoman Yvonne Schmierer told The Associated Press.
Schmierer said it’s also possible that a handler forgot to close the normally secure enclosure.
The incident unfolded in a wooded area near the small town of Buchen in the Neckar-Odenwald district in Baden-Württemberg. Heidelberg is the closest big city about 62 km, or 38 miles, to the west.
The 65-year-old man encountered the elephant at around 5 am. His body was found by searchers looking for the elephant, which was captured and returned to the zoo, unharmed. Police did not reveal the man’s injuries, or why the elephant attacked him.
The U.S. branch of PETA, short for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, published the video below, showing how circus elephants are abused.
The parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced in March that it will stop using elephants in shows by 2018.
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