An elephant died and four more are being treated for injuries after a circus truck accident on a major Spanish highway that provoked an outcry among animal rights defenders.
The truck overturned on Monday on the highway linking Albacete with Murcia, in the south of the country, after overtaking another long vehicle, said Albacete's Civil Guard spokesman Jose Amado.
He said the initial investigation has found that the movement of the five female elephants inside the truck could have destabilized it when the driver maneuvered to switch lanes.
The driver wasn't injured, the spokesman said, but one of the elephants died on the spot.
The four surviving elephants are being treated by veterinarians in a public facility before being moved to a clinic in coming days, Amado said. Three of them have minor cuts and one has more serious injuries to her legs.
"With five unpredictable animals, each one of them weighing three to four tons, accidents can happen no matter how much care has been taken," he said.
Photos and videos shared by local police and authorities showed the elephants standing on the road and being lifted onto trucks by huge industrial cranes.
A section of the highway near Pozo Canada, south of Albacete, remained closed for nearly three hours until the carcass of the dead elephant was also removed, local authorities said.
Animal rights groups said the accident is the latest example of how the nature of the circus business is a danger to the physical and behavioral needs of wild animals.
"These incredible animals are being carted around the country, confined and forced to perform," said Animal Defenders International President Jan Creamer in an emailed statement, adding that animals are often "confined in small spaces, deprived of physical and social needs, spending excessive amounts of time shut in transporters."
The Association of United Circuses said the overturned truck had been cleared by authorities for the transportation of animals and the journey had been approved by veterinarians.
"Animal rights activists have turned this accident into a scandal," said the association's spokesman, Ignacio Pedrera. "They have used it to make politics and attack this industry when road accidents, whether involving animals or not, happen all the time."
Pedrera said 13 out of the 22 active circuses touring Spain use animals in performances. The industry employs more than 2,500 families, he added.