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Jumbo the elephant

Updated on September 14, 2014

The biggest elephant in the world

A skeleton in New York's Museum of Natural History is all that remains of Jumbo, the biggest elephant in the world. Jumbo's story is as big as he was as you will find out. With fun and learning together Jumbo's story will come to life.

The early years

In 1861 a baby elephant was delivered to the Regent's Park Zoo in London, England. Scraped and bruised from his capture in Africa and his travel in a shipping crate, the elephant was barely alive. Thanks to the loving care of a young man named Matthew Scott (Scotty), the elephant began to thrive and grow. Visitors to the zoo enjoyed seeing the little elephant that Scotty had named Mumbo Jumbo.

Did you know?

A baby elephant is called a calf.

What do elephants eat?

At the zoo, Mumbo Jumbo was fed hay, apples, biscuits and onions.

Elephants are herbivores which means they eat vegetation and not meat. Bark, roots, flowers, seeds, fruits and vegetables are the main portion of their diet. They have poor digestion too so they have to eat a lot of food to make up for it. They can eat 140-270kg (300-600lb) of food each day!

Find out more about elephants

Zoo life

Jumbo grew so big that he could crush a man with one foot. But, he was playful and gentle too. He was admired by children who would bring him buns and peanuts. Eventually, Jumbo started giving rides to children on his back. The zoo had a special carrier made which was called a howdah. Jumbo was the star of the zoo!

When you go to the zoo

What is your favourite zoo animal

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Think about it

What would you do if you were the director of the Regent's Park Zoo. How would you showcase Jumbo? What kind of souvenirs could you sell? What sort of food would you offer?

The largest elephant in captivity

Jumbo grew so big that the zoo directors recognized that he was the largest animal in captivity. He weighed over six tonnes (12000 pounds) and measured four metres high (about 12 feet). This means that Jumbo was about as tall as a flagpole and weighed as much as a semi-truck.

Comparing sizes

We just compared the size of Jumbo to that of a truck. Want to do more comparisons?

Jumbo joins the circus

When elephants get older there is the chance that they will develop a condition called must. This condition makes the elephant turn wild and rage like a mad elephant. Because of Jumbo's size, the possibility of him raging madly was terrifying to the people at the zoo. Even though Jumbo remained gentle the directors of the zoo decided they must sell him to prevent any damage or destruction he may cause.

At that time, American circus promoter P.T. Barnum had decided that a huge elephant was just what he needed for his show. And so, Jumbo was sold to the circus for $10 000.

Did You Know?

Jumbo made such a fuss about moving that they had to send Scotty with him!

Read all about the circus

Jumbo synonyms

When P.T. Barnum first saw Jumbo he realized it was the biggest thing he had ever seen. He predicted that words that were synonyms of "big" would be replaced by the word jumbo. And although it didn't really replace them jumbo did become one of those synonyms.

American's first caught sight of Jumbo during the Easter Parade of 1879. Jumbo entered the parade in a wheeled cage pulled by 16 horses. There were clowns, other animals and a big brass band. The day after the parade Barnum's circus - The Greatest Show on Earth was held in Madison Square Gardens.

Every year, the circus went on tour throughout Canada and the United States. The circus traveled by train with a special Jumbo Palace Car for the big elephant to ride in.

Circus life

The elephants, especially Jumbo, were the stars of the show. Jumbo would perform tricks that Scotty had taught him, and then he would give children rides on his back. As long as Scotty was with him Jumbo stayed a gentle elephant. The two performed with the circus for three years covering hundreds of cities and over 12 000 kilometres. But it all ended on a train track in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.

The death of Jumbo

When the Greatest Show on Earth arrived in St. Thomas, Ontario it seemed like the usual scheduled stop. The animals were to be led to the fairgrounds from the circus train. This meant crossing the main train track and the gully. The circus took place and, as usual Jumbo's rides for the children finished up the night. Jumbo was one of the last animals to head back to the circus train. Jumbo did not like the gully and although no trains were scheduled, there suddenly was one coming down the main track. Fear of the train and the gully caused Jumbo to run down the tracks, but there was no where to go. The train set its brakes but it was going at full speed and could not stop in time. It collided with Jumbo in a thunderous crash. Minutes latter, with Scotty at his side, Jumbo died.

When pets die

It is very sad when a pet dies - Scotty had to be pulled away from Jumbo's side after the accident.

Here are some resources that might help a child deal with the death of their pet.

Jumbo's fame lives on

The death of Jumbo was not the end of his fame. His skeleton was placed in a special room of the American Museum of Natural History and his hide was stuffed and put on display at another museum. The children that had ridden Jumbo told stories of him to their children, and their grandchildren. Jumbo's name lives on in our language as it refers to things being mighty, like a Jumbo Jet.

And in St. Thomas, Ontario, where Jumbo died, a life size statue was erected in his honour. So people from all around can still gaze at the biggest elephant in the world!

Other famous elephants

Comments on my page? - Thanks for reading!

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    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 

      6 years ago from Albany New York

      What an interesting story. What a sad ending for Jumbo. That train must have been demolished, too!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Oh me, I have never heard this story of how Jumbo died but I do remember reading and hearing about the great Jumbo the elephant.

    • CruiseReady profile image


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      What an amazing story. I was awfully glad to read that Scotty had been with him at the end.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am learning about jumbo in school, and i think he is a very fascinating and amazing animal.

    • Hedremp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandra Wilson 

      7 years ago from Wilson Education Resource Centre

      @ChrissLJ: It is a sad story and I agree, they should be left to live in the wild. Although Jumbo might not have survived as his mother had been killed by poachers.

    • Hedremp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandra Wilson 

      7 years ago from Wilson Education Resource Centre

      @Ann Hinds: It is very cool to stand beside the statue and see just how big he really was!

    • Hedremp profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandra Wilson 

      7 years ago from Wilson Education Resource Centre

      @Pam Irie: Thanks! It is a sad story, I know I cried when I read about his death.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      7 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I didn't know the true story of Jumbo until I read this page. I was so happy to hear that Scotty went with Jumbo and was by his side when he tragically died. (THAT part was really sad to read).

    • ChrissLJ profile image


      7 years ago

      This story just makes me sad and is just one more reason I boycott circuses. Elephants like Jumbo were meant to live where they could roam. It is nothing but cruel to put them in small cages or make them perform for peanuts. Poor Jumbo.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      How sad. It is true that the name lives on and I knew about Jumbo. I didn't know about the statue. How sweet is that?


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