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"JUMBO" was an African elephant (Loxodonta africana) whose exact place of origin is unknown. He was collected as a calf in 1861, probably in the French Sudan, south of Lake Chad, and was transferred to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, France. In 1865 he was taken to the London Zoological Gardens, England, where he was named Jumbo. The origin of the name is also unknown. Most likely it originated from Angola, West Africa ("onjamba" = elephant). During 1880-1881 Jumbo showed signs of unreliable temper which paved the way for his sale to the American showman P.T. Barnum in 1882. In the United States, from 1882 to 1885, Jumbo was exhibited by the Barnum and London Circus and was heralded as "the towering monarch of his race." Jumbo was indeed large for his age, but his size was certainly exaggerated in print. On September 15, 1885 Jumbo was killed by a locomotive at St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. His mounted skin and skeleton were displayed on tours until 1890. The skeleton was given to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York, in 1900, and the skin donated to the Barnum collection at Tufts College, Medford, Massachusetts (later Tufts University) where it was destroyed in a fire in 1975. "Jumbo Centennial" was celebrated in 1985 at St. Thomas, Ontario and a statue was erected just outside of St. Thomas. Jumbo is the type specimen (AMNH 3283) of Elephas africanus rothschildi after Lydekker, 1907. Much mythos developed about Jumbo, most of which centered on his size (especially when P.T. Barnum and his partner, James A. Bailey, would not allow him to be measured); his name lives as a gift to the English language - a synonym for all things gigantic.

Recommended Citation

Shoshani, S. L., Shoshani, J., & Dahlinger, Jr., F. (1986). Jumbo: Origin of the Word and History of the Elephant. Elephant, 2(2), 86-122. Doi: 10.22237/elephant/1521732022