An animal rights group on Friday asked a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency to look into an owner's treatment of a circus elephant that escaped and was hit by a sport utility vehicle on a northwestern Oklahoma highway.
The 29-year-old female elephant, meanwhile, was treated by veterinarians at Oklahoma State University and released to its owner, said university spokesman Gary Shutt. Shutt would only say that the animal's injuries were not major.
The group In Defense of Animals wants the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service "to confiscate two suffering elephants" from Douglas K. Terranova of Kaufman, Texas, the group said in a letter to Robert Gibbens, a regional director for the agency.
Agency spokesman David Sacks said all complaints are taken seriously and that the agency will look into the situation.
"If it holds some weight, we'll address that," he said.
A report filed by Enid police concerning the Wednesday night incident listed Terranova as the elephant's owner. Terranova did not immediately return a phone message left Friday.
Terranova already faces a complaint filed by the USDA concerning alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act from 2005 through 2008. Among other things, the USDA complaint alleges two elephants owned by Terranova escaped from a circus in Kansas in June 2008 after the animals were spooked by strong storms.
It wasn't immediately clear Friday if the elephant involved in the Oklahoma incident also was involved in the Kansas escape, although Deb Robinson, a captive elephant specialist with In Defense of Animals, said the group believes that is the case.
"Incidents such as this are just further demonstration that elephants do not belong in circuses," Robinson said. "It is impossible for their natural needs to be met, and the result is the kind of stress that would cause an elephant to bolt like this one did."
Bill and Denna Carpenter of Enid said they were driving home from church on U.S. Highway 81 when their vehicle sideswiped the elephant, which had escaped from the Family Fun Circus.
Neither of the Carpenters were injured. The 8-foot, 4,500-pound elephant was examined for a broken tusk and a leg wound.
A statement on the circus' Web site said the circus "does not own an elephant" and that the animal was with the circus "for a few weeks."
The circus' statement said the accident "was not the result of any abuse by anyone" and that the elephant will not return to the circus for the balance of the season. It also said the circus had been told by the elephant's owner that the animal was being seen by his regular veterinarian.