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A vehicle backfiring startled a circus elephant into a Montana street. She still performed Tuesday

Associated Press

The sound of a vehicle backfiring spooked a circus elephant while she was getting a pre-show bath in Butte, Montana, leading the pachyderm to break through a fence and take a brief walk, stopping noontime traffic on the city’s busiest street before being loaded back into a trailer.

Viola, an Asian elephant with the Jordan World Circus, still participated in two performances Tuesday after her time on the lam in the southwestern Montana city of about 35,000 people that in the late 1800s was the world’s largest copper-producing area.

Viola was getting a bath behind the Butte Civic Center just after noon on Tuesday when she was startled, Civic Center manager Bill Melvin said.

She went through a “kind of rickety” fence and went onto Harrison Avenue, a four-lane street, stopping traffic and causing folks to pull out their cellphones to take photos and video.

Olivia LaBeau, 21, was driving home from a coffee run when the elephant strolled in front of oncoming traffic. One car began backing up, and LeBeau stopped her car as the elephant casually made her way to the other side of the road.

“I kind of had to do a double take,” she said. “I thought I was seeing things.”

She took a video of the elephant.

“I had to pull out my phone because I think if I told someone they wouldn’t have believed me,” she said. “It’s a very absurd thing to see in Montana.”

Viola walked about half a block in the road before turning into the parking lot of a convenience store and casino, Melvin said.

Town Pump surveillance cameras caught images from several angles of the elephant walking down the street in front of the building and plodding through the parking lot with a trainer beside her. She then moved to a residential lawn where she started eating some grass.

People with the circus drove a trailer over with another elephant inside, Melvin said. They “put the ramp down and she walked right back in and that was it.”

“The other elephant was very happy to see her,” Melvin said.

About 10 minutes passed from when she was startled to when she was back in the trailer, he said.

“She come back and she performed last night and everything was good,” Melvin said. “I mean the show went on, as they say.”

At least two animal rights groups — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Compassion Works International — criticized the incident, saying it endangered the elephant and the public and could have been avoided if circuses didn’t force animals to perform.

Viola and the Jordan World Circus have performances on Wednesday in the state capital Helena.


Dupuy reported from New York City; AP reporter Sarah Brumfield contributed from Silver Spring, Maryland.


This story has been corrected to show that the elephant performed on Tuesday, not Monday.

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