BARABOO, Wis. — Kelly’s plight was pretty relatable. We’ve all woken up around 5 a.m. at some point and felt like eating several hundred pounds of food.
For Kelly, though, the scope of her hunger was quite literal. Like other 8,400-pound Asian elephants, she eats that much on a daily basis.
The elephant escaped from Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin, early Friday. It didn’t take long for neighbors a couple blocks away from Kelly’s home to notice the giant visitor in their backyard, munching on some plants for an early-morning snack.
Scott O’Donnell, the circus director, said this kind of escape isn’t common. It took some scheming with the other elephant in Kelly’s enclosure, Isla.
Isla, who also turns out to be pretty relatable, is attracted to anything shiny — including the nuts and bolts in the enclosure.
She released a couple of bolts holding onto a latche hinge, giving Kelly the opportunity to escape. Isla was less tempted by the surrounding greenery and stayed put. Kelly, on the other hand, knew not to pass on the opportunity for some free grub.
“Kelly’s probably the more inquisitive one, and definitely the more food-motivated one,” O’Donnell told CNN.
The elephant handlers at Circus World aren’t usually any farther than 20 feet away from the enclosure, but O’Donnell said Kelly was sure-footed enough to slip away unnoticed.
“They highlighted an area that we now know was a weakness,” he said.
Serving and protecting elephants
As it turns out, Baraboo is a pretty convenient place to lose an elephant.
The 12,000 people in the Wisconsin town are no strangers to the circus. Several brothers in the Ringling family — yes, those Ringling brothers — started their iconic circus in Baraboo in 1884. It was a lot more common back then to see a few elephants strolling down the street, O’Donnell said.
Today, the town is home to Circus World, an attraction that includes an actual circus (hence the elephants) and a museum showcasing the Ringlings’ story and circus history.
Baraboo hosts a circus parade every year, with Kelly and Isla taking part in the festivities. The high-profile animals receive a police escort during the event, which brings us back to why Baraboo is a great place for an elephant to escape.
Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf said his officers have already been specially trained on how to handle elephants for the annual parade. So when dispatch got the call about Kelly chilling out in someone’s backyard, they knew exactly how to respond.
“It’s more what not to do than what to do,” Schauf told CNN. Officers, or anyone else staking out a friendly neighborhood elephant, shouldn’t use any sudden movements, sirens or emergency lights that would scare them.
After contacting the trainer, the officers just kept their eyes on Kelly until the handler arrived about 45 minutes later. Schauf said there was never any real danger to the public or Kelly.
“In this particular case, Kelly was just out enjoying the fresh bounty of the day,” Schauf said.
Making the trip home
Kelly journeyed home about as you might expect for a four-ton animal: slowly and in the middle of the street.
It took only one call of her name for Kelly to follow her trainer all the way back home.
“She’s got one speed, which is kind of plunky,” O’Donnell said. Sauntering back a couple blocks toward home took Kelly about five minutes.
In spite of her plunkiness, Kelly admirably stuck to her original goal. With the neighborhood plants not quite satisfying her hunger, she continued to nibble on grass and “tree bits” as she made her way back to the circus.