A recent blurb in The Telegraph features a review of a documentary:
One could easily have imagined Attenborough and the Giant Elephant (BBC One), the bittersweet tale of the world’s first animal superstar – Jumbo the elephant, London Zoo’s foremost attraction in Victorian times – filling a prime-time slot in the Christmas or Boxing Day schedules. But perhaps it was deemed too sad. Too liable to dial down Yuletide high spirits with its archaeological examination of unintentional animal cruelty and the appalling ignorance of generations past.
I had never heard of Jumbo, but his story is rather tragic. He was a superstar attraction, the first time many had ever seen an elephant. He was beloved by children on both sides of the Atlantic.
However, he was severely mistreated. He was forced to perform and did not receive proper medical care. His keeper then gave him alcohol to depress his violent outbursts. He ended up dying in a horrid fashion – being hit in a train crash.
The only comfort is that perhaps Jumbo planted the early seeds of animal rights in people’s minds. Seeing a live elephant made some care more about their welfare, and zoos have made positive changes since that time. Many circuses have gone out of business or have stopped using animals in their shows.