U.S. News

An Elephant Is Wounded in Mississippi

The shooting of a circus animal outrages a nation. What if it had been a person?

04.11.13 8:45 AM ET

No decent soul could be glad that an elephant was shot in a drive-by.

But the Tupelo, Mississippi, police have to wonder about the uproar the shooting has caused, as compared with the shrug they have come to expect when a human is shot.

“We could have five of us dead,” says Capt. Rusty Haynes, “and nobody would blink an eye.”

Within hours of someone firing a shot from a passing vehicle that struck an elephant belonging to a circus visiting Tupelo, the news flashed across the country. The police received calls from seemingly everywhere.

“I’d like to say it turned into a circus, but that’s almost a pun, so I can’t say that,” Haynes tells The Daily Beast.

Haynes says multiple witnesses have reported seeing a white or silver Ford Explorer at the time a shot was fired into the parking lot outside BancorpSouth Arena, where a 39-year-old Asian elephant named Carol was encamped with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

“Striking Carol between her ear and her shoulder, [it was] basically a kind of neck shot,” Haynes says. “Elephants being what elephants are, it didn’t much bother Carol.”

The circus flew in one of its top veterinarians, Dennis Schmitt, who examined the small wound and pronounced Carol in stable condition, but recommended that she be transported to a facility in Springfield, Missouri, for observation. The circus posted a $10,000 reward. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service added another $5,000.

“It's kind of an endangered-species-type thing,” Haynes says.

PETA also kicked in $5,000, and another $1,000 was offered by CrimeStoppers of Northwest Mississippi. Haynes is optimistic the cash will help break the case, even though the police had no suspects as of Wednesday afternoon.

“Right now, we’re just waiting on the $21,000 to strain the bonds of loyalty,” Haynes says.

As endangered as they may be in general, no other elephants appear to have become recent U.S. gunshot victims, although two of the first three of their kind imported into America were shot to death.

The second elephant in America, Bet, was killed in 1816 by a farmer, by one account because she had torn his vest after he teased her by repeatedly offering her whisky and then pulling it away. That shooting also triggered a greater response than if the victim had been just an everyday human.

“Ah! noble, generous, high minded intelligent animal, justly classed among the wonderful works of God!” a letter to a Maine newspaper read. “Thou hadst past from the banks of the Ganges, to the shores of the new world, to gratify the just and laudable curiosity of mankind; to display the wonders of creation, and lead man to adore the maker and former of all things. And here thou hast come to fall by the hand of a miserable unknown caitiff, who only lives to disgrace his species.”

The owner, Hachaliah Bailey, built a monument to Bet that still stands in Somers, New York. He acquired a new elephant he named Lil Bet, but made the mistake of calling her bulletproof. She was proven not to be in 1822 by a group of boys in Rhode Island, with fatal results.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!
By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason

In subsequent years, a number of elephants were executed by a firing squad, though poison and strangulation were the more popular methods of dispatching inconvenient pachyderms, along with a single electrocution in 1903—which was arranged and filmed by Thomas Edison and is, oddly enough, now viewable on You Tube.

But no more elephants were shot, even as countless of our own nonendangered species fell victim to gunfire.

In recent years shootings of humans in Tupelo that received no national attention have included a drive-by in which a teen died and five others were wounded. There was also the shooting of 20-year-old Anna McCoy, soccer star and daughter of police officer Jimmy “Cotton” McCoy.

“I go to the cemetery, talk to her, and I’m sorry I could not protect her,” the father said in a letter read at the killer’s sentencing in July.

Of course, there would be little room in the news for anything else if the press gave the same attention to every person gunned down that it has to the wounding of the elephant Carol. And just imagine the cost if the government posted a $5,000 reward every time a human was shot.

Congress might even institute real gun control.