Wounded circus elephant recovers as reward grows

4:11 PM, Apr 13, 2013   |    comments
(Photo: Provided to USA Today by The Springfield, Mo., News-Leader)
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TUPELO, Miss. -- Reward money for the conviction of Carol the Asian elephant's shooter continues to climb as the wounded animal recovers on a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus farm in Springfield, Mo.

Multiple sources now offer a combined $33,750 for information leading to the assailant who, during the early hours of Tuesday morning, shot Carol in the shoulder while driving by her enclosure outside the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo.

Carol was in town with the traveling circus, which is staging a series of performances at the arena this week.

"I heard a loud, a very loud boom, like a bomb went off," the animal's trainer, Catherine Carden, told the 'Today' show in a segment that aired Friday. "I didn't know if she was going to survive 'til morning. Your whole life flashes before your eyes."

Carol suffered damage but is expected to make a full recovery. She'll spend the next eight weeks recuperating at the circus' farm.

Two other elephants, Duchess and Patty, accompanied Carol to the farm returned to Tupelo Friday to perform in the shows, said circus spokeswoman Melinda Hartline.

Had the bullet hit the elephant a few inches lower or higher, "the damage would have been incredible," her veterinarian who traveled to Tupelo after the shooting, Dennis Schmitt, told "Today."

"There are at least five different fragments that we can identify," he said, looking over ultrasound images.

Carol's owner, Brett 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, who started the circus quarters where Carol is recovering, loan elephants to circuses. Brett Carden and his wife own Carol along with six other elephants. George Carden owns three.

Tupelo police say it's only a matter of time before they nab a suspect in the drive-by, thanks in part to the numerous tips provided since the offer of reward money.

"We are following up on a couple right now and hoping they pan out," said police Capt. Rusty Haynes. "I hope they'll keep coming in. I think of probably 10 tips."

George Carden Circus International and the Performing Animal Welfare Society contributed an additional $10,000 and $2,500, respectively to the reward, joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, animal-rights group PETA, Crime Stoppers of North Mississippi and former 1st District U.S. Rep. Travis Childers.

The assailant or assailants could face federal charges for shooting an endangered species.

Haynes said the police department will discuss those options with federal officials after apprehending a suspect.

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."

"We appreciate all the love and support from the community of Tupelo and all over the state of Mississippi as well as the nation and the world."
- Melinda Hartline, circus spokeswomanHe said there have never been problems with circuses in Tupelo before. "This is a first, unfortunately," Haynes said.

In the meantime, the show goes on in Tupelo. The circus held its first performance Thursday to a large and enthusiastic crowd, said arena spokesman Kevan Kirkpatrick.

"We had a young child bring a bag of peanuts in a gift bag for Carol and a bunch of them brought homemade cards for Carol," Kirkpatrick said. "The community has really rallied around Carol and the circus and Tupelo."

Shows continue through Sunday.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has brought the circus to Tupelo every year since the arena opened in 1995 and, despite this week's tragic event, will continue to make annual stops in the northeast Mississippi city.

"We're scheduled to come back April 2014," Hartline said. "We appreciate all the love and support from the community of Tupelo and all over the state of Mississippi as well as the nation and the world."

Hartline said the circus has received calls and cards from across the planet since Carol's injury.

"It's been overwhelming," she said. "We know there's a lot of circus lovers out there."

Contributing: (Springfield, Mo.) News-Leader reporter Michael Gulledge

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