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Elephant attack: The 65-year-old man was killed when the African elephant (not the elephant pictured) escaped from a nearby circus in the town of Buchen and attacked him in the early hours of this morning

A 65-year-old man has been killed by an escaped circus elephant in Germany.

The man was taking his regular early morning stroll in some woods near the southwest town of Buchen.

The African elephant is believed to have attacked him shortly after 3am GMT, after escaping from a nearby circus.

A Heidelberg police spokesperson Yvonne Schmierer did not reveal what he injuries he received during the attack.

The 34-year-old female elephant, named 'Baby', has been captured and returned to the circus.

Police are investigating how the elephant was let out of its enclosure, and why it acted so aggressively towards the man.

'There's evidence of third party involvement,' said Schmierer.

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

German news agency dpa reported that the elephant has a history of injuring people.

Animal rights group PETA has called for authorities to take the elephant away from the circus.

'Much of what elephants feel, think and do is acquired through social learning,' elephant researcher Joyce Poole told National Geographic.

After more than 30 years in Kenya, Ms Poole has heard numerous tales of elephants intentionally killing humans.

'If a matriarch has a bad experience with people, her behaviour will be adjusted accordingly - either more fearful or more aggressive depending upon her own personality.

'Aggressive behaviour toward people can be learned. Just as children learn prejudices from their parents, so, too, do elephants.'

Estimates claim that some 500 people are killed by elephants worldwide every year.