This month's guest blog is by Camille Regnault, UCL Student. She will also be curating the display in ZSL Library.
According to the author John Sutherland, ‘Baby Jumbo’s exact place and date of birth is vague’. Like Disney’s eponymous hero Dumbo, ‘he might as regards the genealogical record have been brought in by the stork'.*
It is widely agreed that the young calf and his mother inhabited the border regions between Abyssinia and the Sudan (what is now modern Eritrea). Sutherland writes that Jumbo’s birthdate is ‘most reliably put at sometime between early 1860, or shortly thereafter’.
One irrefutable detail concerning Jumbo’s early life is that of his arrival to ZSL London Zoo on the 26th June 1865.
This event is immortalised in the book of Daily Occurrences, held at the ZSL Library, which is one of few original documents to chart the male African elephant’s humble beginnings.
The former was completed daily and listed the arrivals and departures of animals at ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade, featuring a log entry for one particular ‘African elephant’ (Loxodonta africana) that was successfully acquired from the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, at the cost of a ‘few Rhinoceroses’.
Like a zoological register of civic life, it also documented the births and deaths of the animals (marriages were not recorded though Jumbo was later famed for successfully entering married life with a female elephant named Alice).
As such, the Daily Occurrences provides an invaluable record of zoo life during the Victorian age. As Fischer points out ‘while the London Zoo itself did not officially open to the general public until 1846, different species of animals became commonplace and familiar through the press. No longer known as merely abstract symbols, such animals commanded tremendous fascination. The animals gradually became what is popularly termed ‘zoo pets’; animals so well known as to be anthropomorphised and adopted. In this adoption, the danger that such wild animals present became ignored in a kind of mass denial’^
‘Jumbo’ he goes on to say ‘represents the zenith of all this… Through his enormous size (eleven feet tall), he became an English icon. He, as all male elephants do, underwent musth, and became quite aggressive in 1881. The zoo was forced to sell him for a mere £2000. The public outcry against the sale was unprecedented.’
Jumbo was not least welcome because he presented a rare opportunity for Bartlett to study the animal up close and pay particular attention to the elephant’s habits and treatment in captivity. This commitment to his research lead him to publish papers in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society and other journals, some of which can be viewed today at the ZSL Library.
There is a display of items relating to Jumbo in ZSL Library from 17 June to the end of the month.
References mentioned in the text:
* Sutherland, J. (2014). Jumbo: The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation. London: Aurum Press. p28.
^ Fischer, J. K. (1997). The Transparent Aviary: A Zoo Allegory. London: Architectural Association School of Architecture. p29-31.
* Bartlett, A. D. (1899). Wild Animals in Captivity. 3rd ed. London: Chapman & Hall. p23-24.
^ Bartlett, A. D. (1899). Wild Animals in Captivity. 3rd ed. London: Chapman & Hall. p44-45.
Additional reading :
Autobiography of Matthew Scott, Jumbo's keeper : also Jumbo's biography (1885) / Matthew Scott, [Whitefish, Mont.] : Kessinger, 
Elephant story : Jumbo and P.T. Barnum under the big top / by Les Harding, Jefferson ; London : McFarland & Co, 2000
Jumbo / W. P. Jolly, London : Constable, 1976
Jumbo : the greatest elephant in the world / Paul Chambers, London : Andre Deutsch, 2007
London Zoo from Old photographs 1852-1914 - 2nd ed. / by John Edwards, London : John Edwards, 2012. Includes all know photographs of Jumbo.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.