An elephant crushed a minibus in a rampage that left two people in the hospital during an elephant polo match in Sri Lanka on Thursday.

Eighteen-year-old Abey threw off his mahout and an American rider, ran off the pitch and squashed the Spanish team's minibus with his head.

Panicked spectators ran in the southern port town of Galle as the four-ton elephant repeatedly butted the minibus.

A vet stood nearby with a tranquiliser gun as the wayward elephant's owners tried to bring the animal under control.

Elephants are revered in Sri Lanka and are used at Buddhist religious ceremonies and local festivals.

Although there are no accurate figures available, it is estimated between 2500 and 3000 elephants are still found in the wild and there are about 500 in captivity.

Numbers have been rapidly depleted in recent years, due to big game hunting and rapid development and deforestation.

The remaining few thousand are confined to national parks, while pockets of small herds are strewn around in the northeastern and eastern areas.

In 2006 about 150 elephants were killed and 50 humans were trampled or slammed to death as animals strayed into villages scavenging for food, according to Sri Lanka's wildlife department.

Not all the polo players were deterred by Abey's rampage. Several people said all sports were risky and injury was part of the game.