Jumbo the Elephant

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.





Elephants likely to be protected in NY

There is a bipartisan effort in New York to ban elephant entertainment. It passed the legislature and is now on the Governor’s desk for review.

Thanks to efforts by Pace University students to educate their representatives about animal cruelty, New York may become the first state to protect elephants by law.

From USA Today:

The bill, called the “Elephant Protection Act,” allows the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to assess a fine of up $1,000 for every violation of the law when an elephant is used for performances.

The bill doesn’t apply to accredited zoos, aquariums or wildlife sanctuaries.

Cuomo’s office said it is reviewing the bill. If signed, the law would take effect within two years.

French elephant briefly escapes circus

There are multiple versions of the story, but what is clear is an elephant got loose from “La Piste aux etoiles”, a French circus, and wandered around the city of Clermont-Ferrand before being recaptured.  Surprised city dwellers took photos from their phones and shared the images on social media.

Originally, circus employees said a vandal released the 42 year old elephant from her rope.  Then, circus officials changed the story, saying the elephant became loose as she was being taken for a walk by staff.

I personally believe the original story, but then circus officials likely worried about copycat actions so they changed the narrative.


Modoc the Circus Escapee

For four days in 1942, there was an elephant on the loose in the Midwest.  Modoc, a circus elephant, was scheduled to perform in Indiana but was frightened by barking dogs and fled.  She even ran into a pharmacy in a panic, making customers dive for safety.

She ended up on the run from authorities for days, with newspapers across the country marveling at the adventure.

How did they finally recapture her?

According to the Indy Star:

“Her circus playmate, Judy, was led into the woods where she let out a cry for Modoc to emerge. Modoc walked up to her friend and they entwined their trunks. Her trainer, Terrell Jacobs, approached with thirty loaves of bread, which Modoc enthusiastically ate. She was strapped and shackled and led to a waiting truck.”

IMG_3669Photo taken at Elephant Nature Park

Mila the Elephant

Sadly, a 44 year old elephant named Mila died this past week at the San Diego Zoo.

Mila had a hard life.  She did not get along well with her companion at the Honolulu zoo, and was put on the market.

From the San Diego Tribune:

“Mila was sold at age 4 to the Whirling Brothers Circus in New Zealand.

For the next three decades she toured the country, never seeing another elephant. (There’s only one other in all of New Zealand.) For almost that long, a group called Save Animals From Exploitation campaigned for her release.”

It wasn’t until 2013 that she moved thousands of miles from New Zealand to San Diego.  After intense training and a slow introduction to the other elephants, she seemed to be thriving.

The cause of death is unknown, and her death was a surprise.  She may have had a heart attack or stroke.

Ringling Bros. Circus

This past May marked the last performance of circus elephants for the Ringling Bros. Circus, which tours 115 cities yearly.

News released today say this will be the last year the circus operates.

After years of petitions and lawsuits over mistreatment of elephants, the company decided to retire their elephants in May 2016.

The last major legal settlement was for $270,000 to the US Department of Agriculture; the charges were for violations of animal welfare laws.

Despite a decline in the USA, circuses with elephant performers remain popular, especially in Asia.  It is not unusual to be a tourist in India or Thailand and see amateur street performances  and there are plenty of official camps where you can see elephants perform as well.

Being incredibly intelligent animals, elephants can be trained to perform many tricks for human amusement.  Unlike horses or dogs, however, elephants are not domesticated.  There are no domestic breeds, and elephants under human care are never truly tame.


(Photo taken at Elephant Nature Park.)