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Watch an Escaped Circus Elephant on the Loose in Butte, Montana

We've heard of running away to join the circus, but Viola the elephant is running away from it.

By Cassidy Ward
Tusko the baby elephant watching TV

Show us an animal in a cage and we’ll show you an animal looking for an opportunity to get out. That’s the basic premise behind the animated family flick Madagascar (now streaming on Peacock) – which features a diverse group of zoo animals who give up their lives of artificial luxury to make a go of it in the wild – and it was the real-world basis for an unusual elephant sighting in Butte, Montana.

There, residents got a surprise when an Asian elephant was seen strolling casually down city streets on Tuesday, April 16. The elephant, not a native of the Montana area, is named Viola and she is an animal cast member of the Jordan World Circus, which was in town at the time. After confirming they weren’t hallucinating, residents (including the animal’s circus handlers) took action to carefully and safely reunite Viola with the circus.

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Viola the Circus Elephant on the Loose in Butte, Montana

The Jordan World Circus was preparing for a set of performances at the Butte Civic Center when the great elephant escape took place. Viola was out behind the Civic Center getting a pre-show bath when a nearby car backfired, spooked her, and she made a break for it. She cut through a fence described as “kind of rickety” and onto nearby Harrison Avenue, a moderately busy city street.

She strolled about half a block down the road and made a pitstop in a parking lot abutting a casino and a convenience store, before eating some grass from a local yard. Viola’s mid-day romp was captured by surveillance cameras outside a number of buildings. Videos of the incident (see above) show her casually walking about town like she’d lived there all her life.

Within about 20 minutes handlers arrived in a truck carrying another elephant. They threw the ramp open and Viola walked inside with encouragement from her pachyderm companion. “He kind of was using his trunk to say, ‘Come on come on, you’re being crazy, you’re scaring the townsfolk.’ She got in there and they started trumpeting at each other. It was very adorable,” Mataya Smith, a witness to the events, told NBC News. Animal handlers from the circus were able to handle the incident without involvement of police or local authorities.

Animal rights groups have commented on the event, saying the incident endangered Viola and the people of Butte, and wouldn’t have happened if animals like Viola weren’t forced to perform. Many circuses and other animal-based entertainment ventures are retiring the use of elephants and other large animals in their shows. As of 2016, there were at least 65 elephants including Viola performing in circuses around the United States. Until that number is zero, we run the risk of the occasional elephant escape.

See elephants and other animals on the loose in Madagascar, streaming now on Peacock.

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