Police in Germany have launched an investigation after a circus elephant escaped and killed a passer-by. The 65-year-old man is said to have been walking near Circus Luna in Buchen, southwest Germany, at around 5.30am on Saturday June 13, when the elephant charged him.

The 34-year-old African elephant, called Baby, was recaptured by a circus employee. It's not known how the elephant escaped.

According to local newspaper Stimme, the elephant had previously injured a man who entered its enclosure when the circus visited Leutkirch in 2010. However, the elephant is said to have been regularly exercised outside the circus and was walked through Buchen, accompanied by two circus workers, the Wednesday before its escape.

The incident is the latest in a series of recent disasters that have struck big tops around the world.

Circus accidents

On Bank Holiday Monday, last month, two motorcyclists, Miroslav Ivanobi and Abraham Medina, were hospitalised after a collision inside a Globe of Death - a spherical metal cage inside which riders loop-the-loop, passing within inches of each other - during a performance by Uncle Sam's Great American Circus in Ipswich.

Later that week, Vicki Garcia fell to the ground while performing a trapeze-style stunt at Circo Hermanos Vazquez in Houston, Texas. According to circus manager Lorna Vignauld, Garcia had failed to secure a safety harness before the fall, which was performed without a net, but fortunately suffered only minor injuries.

In February, lion trainer Faten El-Helw was pounced upon by one of her Animals during a Show in Egypt. Although back on her feet in seconds after what was described as just boisterous behaviour by the lion, the trainer was hospitalised with a bitten arm and a hairline fracture to her pelvis.

Circus elephants

Elephants have been a traditional part of the circus since they first appeared in Covent Garden in 1810, but since the 1980s the use of wild animals in the big top has been increasingly controversial. The last elephants to appear in a UK circus did so at the now closed Great British Circus in 2009.

Earlier this year, America's Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus - the self-proclaimed Greatest Show on Earth - announced that it will withdraw elephants from its touring show in 2018. The reason given was a change in public opinion and the introduction of legislation in cities such as Los Angeles to ban the use of the ankus or bull-hook, the traditional tool used to guide elephants in unconfined environments. The Ringling elephants will be retired to a breeding and conservation facility that the circus owns in Florida.