Jumbo the Elephant: From The Star Of London To The Greatest Show On Earth

September 15, 2021

Almost everyone’s heard of Walt Disney’s Dumbo. However, most of them have never heard of Jumbo, the real-life elephant that Disney’s fictional flying elephant was loosely based on. Jumbo’s incredible story crosses paths with Queen Victoria, P.T. Barnum, and copious amounts of alcohol. 

Londoners riding Jumbo in the Regent's Park Zoo, London, 1880. (London Stereoscopic Company Hulton Archive Getty Images)

Writer-director Christine Nielsen called him "The world's first animal superstar." At 11 feet 6 inches and 13,000 pounds the enormous creature drew hordes of crowds, becoming a beloved favorite from the London Zoo to “The Greatest Show On Earth.”

Jumbo lived as the star attraction of the London Zoo for 16 years.

A Tumultuous Beginning

As with many child stars and circus attractions, Jumbo began life with some adversity. After poachers killed his mother in Sudan, he ended up in the care of Lorenzo Casanova, an Italian animal dealer, and explorer (titles you can only have in the 19th century). Casanova then sold Jumbo to the London Zoo in 1865, where he quickly became a sensation. Queen Victoria’s children were especially fond of the “Children’s Giant Pet” as he was known.