TODAY   |  April 12, 2013

Circus elephant in recovery from shooting

Police in Mississippi are investigating who shot Carol, an elephant that performs with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, as veterinarians say the elephant is lucky to be alive. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports.

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>>> let's begin this half hour with an elephant that was injured in a drive-by shooting in mississippi. this morning, she is recovering in springfield, missouri. nbc's kerry sanders is here with more on that. kerry, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning. veterinarian tells me carol is lucky to be alive. you can see her here this morning, she's awake, spirited and has been hungry. i've been feeding her some apples this morning. if you look behind her ear you can see the spot, it's kind of hard to see, you can see the spot where she was shot. doctors say she should be back to her old self in about eight weeks. for an elephant, carol 's always been the cute one.

>> sometimes a little obnoxious but mostly adorable.

>> welcome to the greatest show on earth !

>> reporter: she's among the star performers in the ringling brothers barnum & bailey circus . on tuesday the circus was in tupelo, mississippi. carol 's life almost ended.

>> i heard a very loud boom, like a bomb went off.

>> reporter: a single bullet entered carol 's right side, a few inches low are or a few inches closer to her head and --

>> the damage would have been incredible.

>> reporter: fatal?

>> probably.

>> reporter: an ultrasound shows the bullet fragments still in carol 's shoulder.

>> there are at least five different fragments that we can identify. there's one, one there, there was one just went by there.

>> i didn't know if she was going to survive 'til morning. your whole life flashes before your eyes .

>> reporter: you've had your whole life with carol ?

>> yes.

>> reporter: that's katherine as a teenager with her beloved carol .

>> she is a tiny baby elephant.

>> i believe it was fully intentional.

>> reporter: police say there are few leads.

>> i think it may have been just somebody or a couple of people with too much time on their hands.

>> reporter: but a $32,000 reward may be just the incentive someone who knows the gunmen needs.

>> you like that?

>> reporter: residents in tupelo say they're embarrassed.

>> we're hoping she can get back to doing what she does best, entertaining the kids.

>> reporter: asian elephants are an endangered species to whoever shot carol could face federal as well as state charges, possibly up to three years in prison if convicted. the police in tupelo set up a tip line crimestoppers hoping somebody will give them a call that will lead them to whoever did this and among the questions is motive, why anybody would shoot an elephant. matt?

>> it's a good question. kerry sanders in missouri for us this morning, kerry, thank you