Circus animals rescued after truck catches fire on Indiana highway

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MARION, Ind. — A truck hauling zebras and camels for a series of weekend circus performances caught fire early Saturday on a northeastern Indiana highway, prompting a police rescue of the animals, which roamed along the freeway, some munching on grass.

The tractor-trailer caught fire about 2 a.m. along Interstate 69 in Grant County and a state trooper, a Grant County Sheriff’s deputy and a third person rescued the five zebras, four camels and a miniature horse by leading them off the smoked-filled trailer, said Sgt. Steven Glass with Indiana State Police.

Both officers were treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation and later released, but none the animals were injured, he said. The truck driver, a 57-year-old Sarasota, Florida, man, was not injured. All northbound lanes of I-69 were closed until about 6:30 a.m. once the area was cleaned up and the animals were taken away by another truck.

The Grant County Sheriff’s Office posted photos and videos on Facebook of camels walking on the highway and later standing along its shoulder and its median with zebras and law enforcement officers. The posting included the message, “No harm to our furry friends.”

One video shows some of the zebras munching on grass in a surreal scene several miles east of the city of Marion, located about 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

“It’s not something we see every day,” said Deputy Brent Ressett with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.

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The truck was bringing the animals from Florida to Fort Wayne for four weekend circus performances in the northeastern Indiana city benefitting the Mizpah Shrine Circus, said Steve Trump, its circus director.

He said the performances are annual fundraisers for the Mizpah Shrine Circus to help pay for the upkeep of the Shrine Center in Fort Wayne to “allow us to use our other fundraisers for what we’re known best for, taking care of kids.”

Trump said the truck’s crew stopped the vehicle along the highway to check a problem with the vehicle and discovered a fire that quickly spread, threatening the animals in its trailer until they were rescued.

The fire destroyed the truck and a second truck was sent from Fort Wayne to pick up the animals from the highway and bring them to Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum to await their roles in the weekend’s family-friendly circus performances, he said.

“I was thrilled that things worked out that way,” Trump said.

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