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A German walker was attacked and killed by an elephant which had escaped from a circus, police say.

The 65-year-old man was taking his regular morning walk in woods near the town of Buchen, south-west Germany, when he encountered the female African elephant, called Baby.

The 34-year-old elephant was later captured and returned to the circus.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

German police are now investigating how the elephant got out of its enclosure and why it acted so aggressively.

“There’s evidence of third-party involvement,” Heidelberg police spokeswoman Yvonne Schmierer told the AP news agency.

“Either someone forgot to shut the enclosure, or the elephant was released intentionally.”

The elephant had previously injured at least two people – including a man who was thrown in the air and a 12-year-old boy who suffered a broken jaw when he was hit by its trunk, local news agency Stimme reported.

PETA Germany was urging the authorities to remove the elephant from the circus, the agency reported.