Attenborough and the Giant Elephant


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Attenborough and the Giant Elephant

David Attenborough investigates the remarkable life story of Jumbo the elephant - the animal superstar who is said to have inspired the movie Dumbo.


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150 years ago, hardly anyone in Europe had ever seen

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a living African elephant,

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and then an enormous male arrived.

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His name was Jumbo,

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and his story is extraordinary and dramatic.

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He was rumoured to be largest elephant on the planet

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and his celebrity status took him across the globe.

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Millions flocked to see him during his lifetime,

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and it's said that he inspired

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Hollywood movies long after his death.

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But contemporary accounts reveal a troubled life

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fuelled by alcohol, with episodes of terrifying violence,

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a near mystical relationship with his keeper

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and a tragic end that seems hard to believe.

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Now, I'm going to look beyond Jumbo's celebrity

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for the real elephant behind the myths.

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How big was he in reality?

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And what is the truth behind the mysteries

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that surround his tragic death?

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With access to Jumbo's physical remains,

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those questions can finally be answered.

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And with the help of a team of scientists,

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elephant experts and conservationists,

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I will try to find out how our understanding of elephants

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has changed since Jumbo's time.

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This is the story of the world's first animal superstar.

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This is the story of Jumbo.

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In 1882, a unique shipment is about to arrive

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here in one of the busiest ports in the world.

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On board, in a massive wooden crate,

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is an animal that has already captured hearts in Britain.

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His name is Jumbo

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and he's now all set to become a superstar -

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the most famous animal in the world.

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My investigation into Jumbo's life

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begins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

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There are elephant skeletons on display here as in many museums

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around the world, but what I'm looking for

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lies behind the scenes.

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Jumbo's remains were brought here after his death

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and are still among the most treasured specimens

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in the collections.

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It's hard to think of a more famous animal than Jumbo.

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I mean, we have a lot of famous specimens

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in the museum, but it's hard to imagine another specimen

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that carries with it so much history,

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so much lore and legend.

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All these bones have been kept in the museum's

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special temperature controlled storage unit

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for decades, unexamined,

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but now they're being brought out for another look at them.

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For the first time in their history,

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the museum has granted access to Jumbo's skeleton

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for scientific analysis, and I'll be joining an international team

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of researchers as they attempt to answer some of the mysteries

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that still surround this giant.

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One of the important things about collections

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and the reason the museum has great collections like this,

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including Jumbo, is that technologies come about

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that allow you to re-look at these specimens

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in ways you never imagined before.

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Among the team carrying out this first-ever full survey

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of Jumbo is Dr Richard Thomas,

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a researcher of ancient animal bones from the University of Leicester.

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With him is Professor John Hutchinson,

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from the Royal Veterinary College,

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an authority on locomotion in large land animals.

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Finally, Dr Holly Miller from the University of Nottingham,

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who will be analysing the chemical content of Jumbo's bones

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for clues about his diet and overall health.

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And this is what remains of Jumbo.

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There are of course hundreds, if not thousands, of elephant skeletons

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in museums around the world,

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so why should this particular one be of special interest?

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Well, when Jumbo was alive,

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many people believed that he was the biggest

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living land animal on Earth.

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Certainly the biggest that anyone had ever seen.

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20 million people came to see him,

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and after his death, many continued to do so.

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But many mysteries remain.

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Exactly how big was he

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and why did he have terrible fits of rage and violence during the night

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that led him to demolish the cages in which he was kept?

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And, above all, how did he die?

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Even that is still a mystery.

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While the scientists across the Atlantic begin their study

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of Jumbo's bones, I am looking through the archives

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of the London Zoo to try and trace his story

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from Africa to Britain and ultimately to America.

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This register records every important event at London Zoo

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and the entry for June 26th 1865

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notes the arrival of one African elephant.

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It was called Jumbo.

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The name in Swahili means "hello".

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Today, because of this elephant,

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the word Jumbo has come to mean something that's extremely large.

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But, in fact, Jumbo didn't arrive as a giant.

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Far from it.

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The first image of him here is as a small orphan,

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so how did he get here?

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During the 19th century, new zoos across Europe and North America

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were looking for spectacular exhibits

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that would attract visitors.

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Elephants were an obvious choice.

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The first to appear were Asian elephants.

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They are found in India eastwards to south East Asia

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and as far as the visitors to the London Zoo in Victorian times

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were concerned, they were the biggest animals they had ever seen.

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But African elephants are much bigger.

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In fact, they are the largest living land animals on the planet

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and unlike Asian elephants,

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they have hardly ever been domesticated.

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They were once widespread across the continent

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and records suggest that Jumbo had been captured somewhere

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in the north-east.

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A 19th century traveller exploring the Sudan

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has left an account of the brutal way

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in which the local people hunted elephants.

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They would find a mother and her calf,

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chase them until they were both exhausted

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and then spear the mother to death and take the baby.

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So, young Jumbo almost certainly would have witnessed

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the death of his mother.

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Here.

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Hunting is still a huge problem in Africa.

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Adults are killed for their ivory tusks

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and they often leave behind young orphans -

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motherless babies just like young Jumbo.

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As the first of his kind in a British zoo,

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Jumbo was bound to attract a lot of attention,

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but his arrival happened to coincide

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with a relatively new technique called photography

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and that would help to immortalise him.

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Throughout this rich visual record of Jumbo's life,

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the image of one man occurs

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again and again and again.

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He was a man whose life became totally bound up with Jumbo's.

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His name was Matthew Scott, Jumbo's keeper.

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Scott was known to be a difficult man with no close friends,

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and he was no expert on elephants,

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but he did have a deep empathy for animals of all kinds.

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Within hours of meeting, man and beast had bonded,

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and unusually for a working man of the time, Scott wrote

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an account, an autobiography of his life with Jumbo.

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This is it. There've been lots of books written about Jumbo,

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but this is by far the most touching and first-hand.

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Here's Scott describing his first meeting with Jumbo.

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"I thought I never saw a creature so woebegone.

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"The poor thing was full of disease,

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"which had worked its way through the animal's hide

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"and had almost eaten out its eyes."

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Scott now set out on his mission to raise the young elephant.

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It was the beginning of a truly remarkable relationship.

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Scott had never cared for a young elephant before

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and it must have seemed a daunting task.

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The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya

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knows exactly how difficult it is.

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Head keeper Edwin Lusichi, like Scott,

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is caring for a new orphan who has just arrived.

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This elephant close to me is called Musiara.

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He was rescued from the Masai Mara.

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He was found stuck in the mud when he was only about two months old

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and he seems to have stayed there for quite some time,

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because he was very skinny, very thin and very weak,

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a sign that he had been without the mother for quite some time.

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And we hope for the best for him.

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Musiara is so traumatised by his experience,

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a keeper will have to stay by his side 24 hours a day.

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There's no quick easy fix when raising orphaned elephants.

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I mean, you're in for the long term.

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Some arrive in perfectly good shape,

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but the majority have had a dramatic story before they get to us.

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The first step is straightforward physical care,

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but they need more than that.

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Elephants are highly social.

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Musiara, like Jumbo, needs what he would have received

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from his elephant family - constant company, touching and love.

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They need that emotional support.

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Elephants are all about love and family

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and that is what our orphans have been robbed of,

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and one has to very, very quickly plug that gap

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and it really is the keepers at this early stage

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where that strong bond is formed.

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Matthew Scott's autobiography makes it clear

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that he instinctively gave Jumbo the emotional support he needed.

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"I undertook to be his doctor, his nurse and general servant.

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"I watched and nursed him night and day

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"with all the care and affection of a mother,

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"if it were possible for a man to do such a thing."

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His approach clearly worked, because six months later,

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Jumbo looked like a different elephant

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and could at last be displayed to the public.

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By the time he was six,

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he was beginning to carry children on rides around the zoo,

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and they apparently rewarded him with sticky buns.

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Lots of sticky buns.

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Jumbo quickly became hugely popular.

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Even Queen Victoria's children took rides on his back.

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But had this once wild African elephant

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really grown into a gentle giant?

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As Jumbo grew, he was moved from his stable next to the giraffe house

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into a larger enclosure.

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But London Zoo's records from the time tell us that,

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behind the scenes, all was not well.

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Jumbo's calmness during the day was in sharp contrast

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to his behaviour at night.

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Then he would become possessed by terrifyingly violent rages

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in which he would smash the timbers of his enclosure,

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and he did that so regularly

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that carpenters would have to be called in again and again

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in order to make repairs.

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Apparently, he had a curious Jekyll and Hyde character

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and one that would persist during his time in London.

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Remarkably, Matthew Scott makes no real mention of Jumbo's rages.

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But evidence for these violent outbursts can be readily seen

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in the photos of the time.

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Male African elephants grow the longest of all tusks,

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yet in nearly every photo,

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Jumbo's tusks seem small or even non-existent.

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The head of London Zoo at the time, Abraham Bartlett,

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has left an account of what happened to Jumbo's tusks.

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During these terrifying nocturnal rages,

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Jumbo damaged not only his enclosure, but himself

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on one such occasion as Bartlett records in his book.

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"Jumbo broke both his tusks by driving them

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"through the ironwork of his den.

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"The tusks were broken off within his mouth

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"probably close to his upper jaw bone."

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And then when they did grow again,

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Jumbo ground them down against the stonework.

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But what could be the cause of his night-time outbursts

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and terrible acts of self-harm?

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Maybe his bones back in New York could contain some clues.

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I join Richard and John as they examine

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the most impressive part of Jumbo's remains - his huge skull.

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One of the first things we see when we look at his skull

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is just how malformed his teeth are.

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-Here.

-Yeah. I mean, we can see this tooth here is really curved

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in this direction, and on the other side, it's curved again.

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They should have been straight, Richard?

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Yeah, you wouldn't expect to see the tooth bent

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in this kind of way in a normal, healthy elephant.

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We can think of elephant teeth a bit like conveyor belts,

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so they have six teeth, but only ever one of them

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will be in wear on each side at any one time

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and another one will be coming in underneath and behind it

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to replace it at the time which that tooth falls out.

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When that tooth doesn't wear down enough,

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what happens is it gets stuck in the mouth

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and it stays there, but the other tooth carries on developing

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and moving up behind it, and because it's softer,

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because it hasn't formed properly,

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what happens is it hits the tooth that's impacted

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and bends, bends out of shape.

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You can see right here that there's this gap.

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All that sweet food and other inappropriate diet

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that Jumbo was having could have gotten stuck

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and even gotten into the root and the gum

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where infection could have got started,

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or at least inflammation. Probably pretty painful, I would think.

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So, Jumbo had terrible toothache?

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Yeah. I'm afraid so.

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Ah, poor old thing.

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In the wild, African elephants adapt their diet to the changing seasons.

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During the wet season,

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grass can make up 90% of what they eat, but in drier months,

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they will browse on twigs and leaves and even bark.

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Their ridged teeth help grind down this more fibrous food,

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making it easier to digest.

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But what of Jumbo?

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Was his diet in captivity really as poor as his deformed teeth suggest?

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Dr Holly Miller, from the University of Nottingham, may help answer that.

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By taking samples from Jumbo's bones,

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particularly the femur or leg bone and the ribs,

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she hopes to discover more about his diet.

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These tiny samples could tell us a lot

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about the food Jumbo was eating

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and reveal whether or not that affected his overall health.

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Jumbo has some interesting stories to tell.

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So, his femur results, that gives us the diet,

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a broad idea of the diet for about 20 years,

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and the ribs a lot shorter period of that,

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maybe ten, five to ten years.

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So we're seeing his diet in London

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and some of his diet in America, possibly,

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and we're seeing largely a very stable diet in that period.

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Does that match with the suggestion that his diet

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was actually almost entirely hay and penny buns?

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Yes, we are definitely seeing some suggestion that he's not getting

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the variety of diet that other elephants should.

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What they should have in their diet is a lot of browse.

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They use their trunks to access the top of trees

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and they get twigs and bark which helps them

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break down the diet.

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The pathologies we saw with his teeth, they were coming through

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in the wrong angle and they were soft.

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They're not hardening because they're not being used

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in the right way, they're not being used

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to grind down the right sort of food.

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So it seems that elephants, just like humans,

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can suffer severe dental problems if they don't have the right diet.

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But was this having an effect on Jumbo's behaviour?

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Anyone's who's had toothache knows that it seems worse at night

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when you have no distractions,

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so maybe this is one of the explanations

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for Jumbo's terrifying nocturnal rages,

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and maybe, too, it supports the story

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that Matthew Scott, his keeper,

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used to feed him lots of whisky in order to calm him.

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Scott, apparently, had no family or close friends

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and he totally devoted himself to Jumbo,

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even to the extent that the two of them would often drink

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late into the night.

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But Scott's unorthodox methods to help pacify Jumbo

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do little to calm his boss's nerves.

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Abraham Bartlett worries that instead of attacking

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his cage at night, Jumbo, by day, might turn on the public,

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including children.

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As a precaution, he purchases a gun in case he has to shoot Jumbo.

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Bartlett becomes convinced that Jumbo is suffering

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not from toothache, but from musth, a natural condition periodically

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affecting young male elephants when they become sexually mature.

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During musth, testosterone levels in males can increase 60-fold

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and they become extremely aggressive.

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The temporal glands on the head behind the eyes swell and leak,

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and the elephants, as they walk, discharge an almost continuous

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dribble of urine, creating a scent trail.

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Until recently, there was little research on young male elephants.

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Dr Vicki Fishlock is one of a team of researchers

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who've been studying males in Kenya's Amboseli National Park

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and she's now beginning to understand

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what drives their behaviour.

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Was Abraham Bartlett right about musth

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being the cause of Jumbo's aggression?

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So, males in musth are really signalling

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their competitive ability,

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they are really signalling that they're in great shape

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and that females should mate with them

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and that other males should look out.

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Musth is really a way of saying,

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"I'm here, I'm big and I'm on a mission."

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I usually say they're cruising for girls and trouble.

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In the wild, musth usually starts

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when a male elephant is in his mid to late 20s.

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But in captivity, musth can begin much earlier,

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and, indeed, Jumbo was 21 when his night rages intensified.

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Could his heightened aggression come from musth?

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Vicki is not convinced.

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Musth is really, for elephants, a state about dominance,

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and establishing dominance.

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So, if Jumbo's rages had been associated with musth,

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you would expect that would be directed not just

0:24:500:24:52

to his physical surroundings, but to his keepers as well,

0:24:520:24:56

who were also controlling his behaviour in some way.

0:24:560:25:00

So, you'd expect him to have directed some aggression

0:25:000:25:03

towards the humans around him.

0:25:030:25:07

But there is nothing in the historical records

0:25:070:25:10

to suggest that Jumbo was ever violent towards people.

0:25:100:25:13

So, was Abraham Bartlett mistaken

0:25:150:25:17

for blaming Jumbo's increasing aggression on musth?

0:25:170:25:21

Could there perhaps be another explanation?

0:25:240:25:27

Work in the United States with retired zoo and circus elephants

0:25:340:25:39

may provide the answer.

0:25:390:25:40

Sookie, trunk here.

0:25:420:25:44

The behavioural problems that afflicted Jumbo

0:25:450:25:48

more than 100 years ago are all too familiar to carers

0:25:480:25:52

who work with the African elephants here

0:25:520:25:54

in the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

0:25:540:25:57

The sanctuary was created to provide a home

0:26:050:26:08

for old or unwanted elephants across America.

0:26:080:26:11

The elephants themselves had been captured as orphans in Africa

0:26:110:26:16

and then kept isolated or locked up, like Jumbo.

0:26:160:26:20

When they first arrive here, many are extremely agitated

0:26:240:26:27

and aggressive, and evidence of self-harm

0:26:270:26:31

is all too obvious.

0:26:310:26:32

Their tusks worn down by repeated rubbing against their den walls.

0:26:320:26:37

The similarities to Jumbo are clear.

0:26:430:26:45

But there is one big difference - these elephants are all female.

0:26:480:26:52

So, clearly their aggressiveness cannot be due

0:26:550:26:58

to a surge of male hormones.

0:26:580:27:00

In fact, their behaviour quickly improves as they settle in

0:27:030:27:06

and build friendships with other elephants in the sanctuary.

0:27:060:27:10

We now know that elephants are extremely social animals,

0:27:120:27:18

they need the company of their own kind.

0:27:180:27:22

And we also know that they're extremely intelligent,

0:27:220:27:25

they easily get bored.

0:27:250:27:27

So keeping a single elephant in captivity

0:27:270:27:30

is not a way to rear a happy and healthy elephant.

0:27:300:27:35

To visitors to London Zoo in the 19th century,

0:27:370:27:40

Jumbo did indeed appear to be a happy elephant,

0:27:400:27:44

but they had no idea of his aggressive darker side.

0:27:440:27:48

Bartlett kept that a secret.

0:27:480:27:50

And back at the museum in New York,

0:27:520:27:54

there is evidence that his life in captivity

0:27:540:27:57

was also damaging his physical health.

0:27:570:28:00

When we look at the knee, we see all sorts of kind of changes in the bone

0:28:000:28:03

that we wouldn't really expect to see in an elephant of his age.

0:28:030:28:07

Remember, Jumbo's only 24 and still growing.

0:28:070:28:10

But what we see actually when we start looking at the bone surface,

0:28:100:28:13

we can see it's really roughened

0:28:130:28:15

and you'll see these extra lumps of bone that shouldn't be there.

0:28:150:28:19

You've got them on this side

0:28:190:28:20

and John's got them on the side of the tibia here.

0:28:200:28:23

Yeah, there's some bumps invading into the joint surface itself,

0:28:230:28:27

which is not a good sign.

0:28:270:28:28

And what these are is, these are lumps of bone

0:28:280:28:31

at the point where ligaments are attaching to the joints,

0:28:310:28:35

and the bone is adapting to try and compensate

0:28:350:28:38

for all those stresses he's experiencing.

0:28:380:28:40

For a 24-year-old elephant, it's kind of like a 24-year-old person

0:28:400:28:44

having similar kinds of joint problems.

0:28:440:28:46

Well, we know Jumbo carried loads of people, certainly children,

0:28:460:28:50

I think even adults, could that have produced this consequence?

0:28:500:28:54

Sure, yeah, loading them up with people and walking them around

0:28:540:28:58

on a hard surface and not giving them the right diet,

0:28:580:29:01

all these factors could spiral together

0:29:010:29:04

and give Jumbo problems like these joint inflammation problems.

0:29:040:29:09

So, far from being bad-tempered with his nocturnal rages,

0:29:090:29:13

it sounds as though he was extraordinarily patient

0:29:130:29:16

day after day after day to carry passengers,

0:29:160:29:19

which is what the zoo did.

0:29:190:29:22

There is no doubt that Jumbo was held in deep affection

0:29:230:29:26

by the general public, but his bones suggest that he was

0:29:260:29:30

in effect being harmed by those who adored him most.

0:29:300:29:34

The stresses and strains of captivity combined with a poor diet

0:29:360:29:40

and hundreds of rides at London Zoo created symptoms

0:29:400:29:44

usually associated with old age.

0:29:440:29:47

His bones are more like an elephant in its 40s or 50s

0:29:470:29:51

than in its 20s.

0:29:510:29:52

There's nothing in the zoo's records suggesting that they had concerns

0:29:540:29:57

about Jumbo's health.

0:29:570:29:58

But the head of the zoo, Abraham Bartlett,

0:30:010:30:03

was still extremely worried

0:30:030:30:05

about Jumbo's fits of uncontrollable violence.

0:30:050:30:08

As a result, he makes a shocking decision -

0:30:100:30:14

to try and sell the popular elephant,

0:30:140:30:17

and he hears of a possible buyer,

0:30:170:30:19

the famous American circus showman, PT Barnum.

0:30:190:30:23

News that Barnum was looking for an African elephant

0:30:240:30:27

reached the London Zoo in the form of a telegram which said,

0:30:270:30:30

"What was the lowest price that they would accept

0:30:300:30:33

"for their African elephant?"

0:30:330:30:35

Here was a marvellous opportunity for Bartlett to get rid

0:30:350:30:40

of his problematic elephant and he cabled back £2,000.

0:30:400:30:45

That's over £150,000 in today's money,

0:30:450:30:48

an enormous sum, and this register shows that it was accepted.

0:30:480:30:53

PT Barnum was the owner

0:30:580:31:00

of the popular Greatest Show on Earth touring circus,

0:31:000:31:03

which already featured 20 Asian elephants.

0:31:030:31:06

He was an astute businessman,

0:31:060:31:08

who had made his fortune exhibiting fake curiosities

0:31:080:31:12

and he wanted a star attraction to draw in crowds to his new circus.

0:31:120:31:17

Barnum sent his head elephant keeper to collect Jumbo

0:31:210:31:24

and we know how difficult a task that proved to be,

0:31:240:31:27

because newspapers of the time reported in detail

0:31:270:31:30

on this highly public event.

0:31:300:31:32

As crowds gathered, he attached chains round the elephant's neck.

0:31:380:31:42

Jumbo ripped them off.

0:31:420:31:44

They attached more chains and eventually got him

0:31:440:31:47

to the mouth of the crate, whereupon Jumbo, sensing a trap,

0:31:470:31:51

simply lowered himself onto his stomach and sat there,

0:31:510:31:55

and nothing anybody could do would make him budge.

0:31:550:31:58

Both Bartlett and Barnum began to suspect that his keeper Scott

0:32:010:32:05

was using some form of secret language with Jumbo

0:32:050:32:09

to make him unwilling to leave the zoo.

0:32:090:32:12

Could that be possible?

0:32:120:32:14

Could man and elephant have talked to each other?

0:32:140:32:16

Today, we know that elephants use a variety of ways to communicate,

0:32:190:32:23

but it's taken decades of field research to decode

0:32:230:32:27

the many sounds and signals that they use.

0:32:270:32:30

Despite having poor eyesight,

0:32:360:32:38

elephants will use visual signals to communicate when near each other.

0:32:380:32:43

Their ears, trunks and tails can all be used

0:32:430:32:46

to indicate emotional moods.

0:32:460:32:49

Come on. Back here. Go.

0:32:510:32:53

In recent years, scientists have come to discover

0:32:530:32:57

that elephants are even able to understand a gesture

0:32:570:33:00

that we tend to think of as uniquely human -

0:33:000:33:02

pointing.

0:33:020:33:04

Not only that, it's been shown that they can distinguish

0:33:050:33:08

between different human voices.

0:33:080:33:10

So, was Matthew Scott secretly telling Jumbo to stay put?

0:33:110:33:15

I'm absolutely sure that in a situation

0:33:170:33:20

where you have a one-on-one relationship,

0:33:200:33:22

like Jumbo had with his keeper,

0:33:220:33:24

the trust that gets built up enables two-way communication.

0:33:240:33:28

And what happens next seems to support this.

0:33:300:33:34

Barnum offered to take on Scott as Jumbo's keeper,

0:33:340:33:37

to go with his beloved elephant to America,

0:33:370:33:40

and almost immediately after this deal is agreed, Jumbo cooperated.

0:33:400:33:45

As the frenzy about Jumbo's departure reached its peak,

0:33:480:33:53

20,000 people a day assembled at the zoo to protest about it.

0:33:530:33:59

A court case was filed to try and prevent the bargain.

0:33:590:34:04

Queen Victoria was said to be extremely upset.

0:34:040:34:08

But the deal had been done.

0:34:080:34:10

On the 22nd of March 1882, in the middle of the night,

0:34:120:34:16

crowds of onlookers assembled

0:34:160:34:18

to watch Jumbo being pulled to the docks by 12 horses,

0:34:180:34:23

with Scott standing, stroking his elephant's trunk in reassurance.

0:34:230:34:28

Jumbo arrived at five o'clock in the morning

0:34:380:34:42

down here at St Katherine's Dock.

0:34:420:34:45

He was loaded onto a barge and then taken out to the Assyrian Monarch,

0:34:450:34:49

the British ship that was going to take him across the Atlantic.

0:34:490:34:53

He drank some beer, followed by a whisky chaser,

0:34:540:34:58

and then the world's most famous elephant

0:34:580:35:01

was ready for his departure.

0:35:010:35:03

As the ship slowly sailed down the Thames,

0:35:030:35:06

thousands lined its banks to wish him well.

0:35:060:35:10

The publicity surrounding his departure had not gone unnoticed

0:35:120:35:16

on the other side of the Atlantic,

0:35:160:35:18

and would ensure that a huge crowd would be waiting to receive him.

0:35:180:35:22

It was a two-week journey across the ocean to New York City

0:35:290:35:34

and it must have been a horrible trip for the animal.

0:35:340:35:37

It seems that, at times, he was a little seasick

0:35:370:35:40

and had to be kept calm with alcohol.

0:35:400:35:43

But over in America, Jumbo-mania was already erupting,

0:35:440:35:48

and his new owner, PT Barnum, was keen to fuel this excitement.

0:35:480:35:52

When the Assyrian Monarch reached the Hudson River,

0:35:560:36:00

Barnum chartered a small boat to take him out to the ship

0:36:000:36:03

so that he could see his purchase for the very first time.

0:36:030:36:09

Was it really as big as he had hoped?

0:36:090:36:11

Barnum declared, without hesitation,

0:36:120:36:15

that this was the biggest African elephant in the world,

0:36:150:36:19

whether that was true or not.

0:36:190:36:21

To discover how big Jumbo really was, we can turn to his bones again.

0:36:270:36:33

The team will use his leg bone as a starting point.

0:36:330:36:37

So, one of the things we can do is we can take the femur,

0:36:410:36:44

-so we can take the leg bone...

-This bone?

-This bone here, yeah.

0:36:440:36:47

..and we can measure the length.

0:36:470:36:48

Because this is the bone that is the longest bone in the elephant's body

0:36:480:36:52

and it gives us a good indication of how tall Jumbo might have been.

0:36:520:36:56

So, how long is it?

0:36:560:36:58

107 centimetres.

0:36:580:36:59

So the circumference is...

0:37:030:37:06

..39 centimetres.

0:37:060:37:09

We can estimate his weight at around 6,000 kilograms -

0:37:090:37:13

that's not obese for his height.

0:37:130:37:16

Jumbo is measuring in at 3.2 metres tall.

0:37:160:37:21

And we know how old he was?

0:37:210:37:22

And we know how old he is and that's really, really important.

0:37:220:37:25

We know he's 24 at the time of his death.

0:37:250:37:28

What we can establish is what a normal wild African elephant

0:37:280:37:33

should be at shoulder height at that age.

0:37:330:37:35

-And that would be about 2.7 metres.

-Wow!

0:37:350:37:38

-So 3.2 metres...

-So he's 3.2 metres?

0:37:380:37:40

That's pretty tall. Actually, that's 20% different.

0:37:400:37:44

That's an enormous difference.

0:37:440:37:46

-Yeah, Jumbo was taller than he should be for his age.

-Wow.

0:37:460:37:50

That's surprising.

0:37:500:37:52

Jumbo is about 20% taller.

0:37:520:37:54

Yeah. 3.2 metres is what he really was at the shoulder

0:37:540:37:58

and instead what he should have been for a wild African elephant

0:37:580:38:01

at 24 years of age would be more like 2.7 metres.

0:38:010:38:05

-Really?

-So he's...

-He's a leggy elephant for his age.

0:38:050:38:08

So, Jumbo's height was around 10 feet 6 inches,

0:38:100:38:14

or 3.2 metres, at the time of his death.

0:38:140:38:18

Evidence from wild elephants

0:38:180:38:20

suggests that they can reach up to 13 feet, or 4 metres, in height

0:38:200:38:25

and will weigh almost 7,000 kilograms.

0:38:250:38:29

But his leg bone tells us more.

0:38:300:38:33

This...zig-zag line here, this crack,

0:38:350:38:38

tells us, I assume, that he was still growing?

0:38:380:38:42

Yes, absolutely right.

0:38:420:38:44

So, the ends of the bone are separate

0:38:440:38:46

from the main body of the bone

0:38:460:38:48

when mammals are growing, and eventually they will unite

0:38:480:38:52

when the animal reaches its full size,

0:38:520:38:53

but we can see here... Because this crack is still open,

0:38:530:38:56

we can see that Jumbo is still growing.

0:38:560:38:58

Male African elephants continue to grow until they're 40,

0:38:580:39:02

so Jumbo had another 16 years of growing.

0:39:020:39:06

So, although he wasn't quite as tall as Barnum said he was,

0:39:060:39:10

this animal had the potential of being exceptionally big.

0:39:100:39:15

Yeah, he could've been a record-breaker

0:39:150:39:17

if he had had that 16 extra years to grow.

0:39:170:39:20

Jumbo's leg shows us that he was indeed a very big elephant.

0:39:220:39:27

In fact, he was bigger than you would expect

0:39:270:39:31

for an elephant of his age.

0:39:310:39:33

He wasn't as big as Barnum claimed, but he was still growing,

0:39:330:39:38

and he could have actually matched that claim, had he lived.

0:39:380:39:42

But then, as Jumbo tours North America with the circus,

0:39:460:39:49

there is a major change.

0:39:490:39:52

TRAIN WHISTLES

0:39:520:39:53

With 20 other elephants to keep him company,

0:39:550:39:58

Jumbo has a lot more stimulation

0:39:580:40:01

and there are no accounts of the night rages he suffered in London.

0:40:010:40:04

And, of course, Matthew Scott, his keeper from London Zoo,

0:40:070:40:10

is by his side throughout.

0:40:100:40:12

But what about Jumbo's health at this time?

0:40:160:40:19

The research team has another find to show me -

0:40:230:40:26

a rather gruesome piece of Jumbo's remains.

0:40:260:40:29

-So, this rather extraordinary relic is actually Jumbo's tail.

-Oh.

0:40:350:40:41

It's actually a really key part of the Jumbo puzzle

0:40:410:40:43

from Tufts University in Massachusetts,

0:40:430:40:46

where they held Jumbo's stuffed body after he died.

0:40:460:40:51

But, unfortunately, that was lost in a fire,

0:40:510:40:53

but we still have the remarkable tail.

0:40:530:40:55

And what we have is these hairs, some very thick and some very thin.

0:40:570:41:01

The thinner ones are new growth.

0:41:010:41:04

We can take some samples of these finer hairs

0:41:040:41:08

and one of the thicker, longer-growing hairs

0:41:080:41:11

so we get a nice snapshot of Jumbo's diet almost right before he died.

0:41:110:41:16

Who would have thought it?

0:41:160:41:18

While Holly analyses the chemical content of Jumbo's tail,

0:41:190:41:23

Richard and John discover something unusual about Jumbo's hip bone.

0:41:230:41:27

Never seen this - both sides.

0:41:270:41:29

It's both sides and it's also the same layering effect.

0:41:290:41:32

You've got the...sort of older, remodelled bone underneath

0:41:320:41:36

and you've got this layer of active new bone forming on the top.

0:41:360:41:40

Really, really very pronounced.

0:41:400:41:42

Huh. That's a lot of inflammation.

0:41:420:41:44

Oh, it's incredible.

0:41:440:41:45

-VOICEOVER:

-He's got so many signs of stress and strain-related injuries -

0:41:450:41:49

they must have been incredibly painful for him,

0:41:490:41:51

but may have reflected the use to which he was put,

0:41:510:41:54

both in London and in a circus in America.

0:41:540:41:56

-Big patch of bone.

-Yeah, huge, huge.

0:41:560:41:59

Could these signs of inflammation indicate that Jumbo's health

0:41:590:42:03

was in serious decline?

0:42:030:42:05

Never seen anything like that. Does it go around?

0:42:050:42:07

Holly has now had time to look at the chemical clues

0:42:070:42:09

in the hair samples from Jumbo's tail,

0:42:090:42:12

and of particular interest is the amount of nitrogen,

0:42:120:42:16

an element that's crucial to the repair of the body.

0:42:160:42:19

Jumbo's nitrogen values are odd

0:42:210:42:24

when compared to other elephants in other circumstances,

0:42:240:42:27

and we can see that Jumbo is the highest of all these here.

0:42:270:42:31

-By a long way.

-By quite a long way, yes.

0:42:310:42:34

So, elephants can reach these levels

0:42:340:42:36

when they're stressed, but it only happens seasonally,

0:42:360:42:40

when they're not getting much from their diet.

0:42:400:42:42

You say "stressed" - that doesn't mean stress on the body,

0:42:420:42:45

it means something to do with the diet.

0:42:450:42:47

Physiologically stressed -

0:42:470:42:48

their bodies aren't getting necessarily what they need

0:42:480:42:50

from their environment.

0:42:500:42:52

And if we think about what we saw

0:42:520:42:54

where he was laying down all that new bone in his pelvis -

0:42:540:42:57

to create new bone in your body, you need an awful lot of protein,

0:42:570:43:01

so he would have been taking all of that from his diet.

0:43:010:43:04

He's also, we think, at the end probably quite sick.

0:43:040:43:09

We have some written records that suggest that he was unwell

0:43:090:43:12

towards the end with some sort of wasting disease, potentially.

0:43:120:43:16

Jumbo's body must have been trying desperately to extract

0:43:170:43:21

as much nitrogen as it could from his diet

0:43:210:43:25

to help repair the bone in his hip.

0:43:250:43:27

These injuries were likely related to his treatment in captivity,

0:43:300:43:33

and it seems that, as a result, Jumbo was losing weight.

0:43:330:43:37

There is little doubt that he must have been suffering.

0:43:390:43:42

But that didn't stop his American owner, PT Barnum,

0:43:440:43:48

from finding new ways to promote his biggest elephant.

0:43:480:43:52

And a remarkable opportunity soon arose.

0:43:530:43:56

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges

0:44:020:44:06

in the United States.

0:44:060:44:08

It was, in fact, opened in 1883,

0:44:080:44:11

the year after Jumbo arrived in America

0:44:110:44:14

and, almost immediately, an accident on it led to the death of 12 people.

0:44:140:44:20

So, to squash any rumours about the bridge's safety,

0:44:230:44:27

the authorities agreed to an unusual publicity stunt.

0:44:270:44:31

On the 17th of May 1884,

0:44:390:44:42

thousands of people lined these banks to see 20 elephants,

0:44:430:44:48

led by Jumbo, marching across the bridge.

0:44:480:44:52

What a sight it must have been.

0:44:520:44:54

Scott, Jumbo's keeper, was nervous about the whole event.

0:44:550:45:00

This is what he writes about it.

0:45:000:45:02

"When Jumbo put his foot down on the bridge,

0:45:020:45:05

"the bridge rebounded after the shock given by his foot.

0:45:050:45:10

"The rebound was met by his second footstep,

0:45:100:45:13

"and there was a great vibration caused by it.

0:45:130:45:16

"I assure my reader that I was thankful

0:45:160:45:19

"when we arrived on the Brooklyn side."

0:45:190:45:21

Although Jumbo goes back to touring with the rest of the circus,

0:45:270:45:31

all is not well.

0:45:310:45:33

It seems the bone damage to Jumbo's leg

0:45:370:45:40

is becoming a problem in his day-to-day life.

0:45:400:45:43

Not long after the parade across Brooklyn Bridge,

0:45:450:45:48

an associate of Barnum's reports in a letter

0:45:480:45:51

that an ailing Jumbo could no longer lie down.

0:45:510:45:55

That doesn't stop Barnum,

0:45:570:45:59

who's keen to keep the circus travelling with his prize elephant.

0:45:590:46:02

In September 1885,

0:46:110:46:13

the circus train crosses the border into Canada

0:46:130:46:16

on what should be a routine tour.

0:46:160:46:19

TRAIN HORN HONKS

0:46:200:46:23

I'm keen to follow their journey,

0:46:270:46:29

because the accounts of what happened next

0:46:290:46:32

are shocking and tragic.

0:46:320:46:34

In the 1880s, St Thomas, Ontario is the perfect stop

0:46:410:46:45

for Barnum & Bailey's Circus.

0:46:450:46:48

It's the central hub for 26 different railways

0:46:480:46:51

that converged here from all over North America.

0:46:510:46:54

On the day when the circus comes to town,

0:46:570:47:00

Jumbo is once again the main attraction,

0:47:000:47:03

drawing crowds from miles around.

0:47:030:47:06

By the late evening, the show is over.

0:47:090:47:12

The tents are being taken down, the performers are packing up

0:47:120:47:16

and the animals are being led down to the train.

0:47:160:47:18

Jumbo and a small elephant called Tom Thumb

0:47:190:47:22

are the last to be loaded

0:47:220:47:24

and, as Matthew Scott leads them towards their boxcar,

0:47:240:47:29

a freight train comes thundering down the track towards them.

0:47:290:47:33

Reports of what happens next differ.

0:47:350:47:38

Some eyewitness accounts record Jumbo running away from the train,

0:47:380:47:44

but, soon after, Barnum claims the opposite.

0:47:440:47:47

He declares Jumbo's death "a great heroic act",

0:47:490:47:53

telling reporters that the large elephant

0:47:530:47:56

had run head-first into the train,

0:47:560:47:58

sacrificing his own life to save his keeper

0:47:580:48:01

and Tom Thumb, the smaller elephant.

0:48:010:48:04

This image, based on Barnum's account of Jumbo's head-on crash,

0:48:070:48:12

was to be published again and again.

0:48:120:48:14

So, what is the truth?

0:48:180:48:20

What actually happened on that railroad in St Thomas?

0:48:200:48:24

The research team has been looking over Jumbo's bones

0:48:290:48:32

for signs of injury.

0:48:320:48:34

Now that you've seen the entire skeleton,

0:48:350:48:39

is there anything we can deduce

0:48:390:48:41

about the way in which he met his end, his death?

0:48:410:48:44

Our first thought was we might find some evidence of trauma

0:48:440:48:46

in his skeleton that might relate to the impact of the train accident.

0:48:460:48:51

So we've looked at the skeleton for evidence of fractures,

0:48:510:48:55

and we have found no signs of any bone fractures

0:48:550:48:58

that affected either his skull or his pelvis.

0:48:580:49:01

Amazing.

0:49:010:49:03

BELL TOLLS

0:49:030:49:05

So the exact details of Jumbo's death are still rather puzzling.

0:49:070:49:11

While the rest of the world may have forgotten Jumbo's story,

0:49:130:49:17

in the town where he died, it's a proud part of their history.

0:49:170:49:21

The Elgin County Museum is almost a shrine to Jumbo's memory,

0:49:220:49:26

and I'm hoping its curator, Mike Baker,

0:49:260:49:29

will have some clues to help explain exactly how Jumbo died.

0:49:290:49:33

This group of things that were found in his stomach

0:49:340:49:37

while the skin and the bones are being prepared for mounting -

0:49:370:49:40

there's a little miniature pig at the back,

0:49:400:49:42

which is actually a match safe,

0:49:420:49:44

a charm bracelet, a button,

0:49:440:49:47

a collar stud and a tooth...

0:49:470:49:49

-LAUGHING:

-I don't want to think about how he got a tooth!

0:49:490:49:51

But they're all part of the many, many things

0:49:510:49:54

they found in Jumbo's stomach, including quite a few coins.

0:49:540:49:57

-Coins?

-Yes, maybe as many as 300.

0:49:570:49:59

Mostly pennies. Pennies that I think were supposed to have gone to Scott

0:49:590:50:04

as payment for a ride, and then not quite making it to Scott.

0:50:040:50:08

Jumbo would have grabbed them with his trunk,

0:50:080:50:11

cos I think he was a bit of a kleptomaniac with that trunk.

0:50:110:50:15

And these? What are these?

0:50:150:50:17

Well, these appear to be photographs of the locomotive

0:50:170:50:20

that collided with him.

0:50:200:50:21

-The very one?

-That brought about his death, yeah.

0:50:210:50:24

Not too many years later.

0:50:240:50:25

And the most interesting feature

0:50:250:50:27

is the little tin elephant that someone has cut out,

0:50:270:50:30

-to say, "Yes, this is the locomotive that got Jumbo."

-Really?

0:50:300:50:34

Not sure why they're proud of that,

0:50:340:50:36

but they were keen to mark it anyway.

0:50:360:50:38

Among all this memorabilia

0:50:420:50:44

is a photograph taken just after Jumbo's death.

0:50:440:50:48

This is a much-enlarged version

0:50:560:50:58

of the photo that you often see of poor, dead Jumbo.

0:50:580:51:00

It's taken about a day after the accident.

0:51:000:51:03

It's Scott at his head

0:51:030:51:05

and one of the owners of the circus, Hutchinson, lying against him.

0:51:050:51:09

And it's interesting to see in this photograph...

0:51:090:51:11

Now that it's blown up, you can see a series of abrasions on his hide

0:51:110:51:16

and it matches up very nicely with the one good graphic

0:51:160:51:20

from soon after the collision.

0:51:200:51:22

Mike has come across an image of Jumbo that I've not seen before.

0:51:240:51:29

It was discovered in an antique print gallery in Washington,

0:51:290:51:32

and is now on loan to the museum,

0:51:320:51:35

and it is the final piece of the Jumbo jigsaw.

0:51:350:51:39

It's probably the best depiction of the actual collision with Jumbo.

0:51:410:51:46

This was done by an artist possibly on the site

0:51:460:51:49

about three days after the collision.

0:51:490:51:51

It matches very nicely with the photographic evidence,

0:51:510:51:54

and you can see the engine coming up behind Jumbo,

0:51:540:51:57

so causing the abrasions that you can see in the enlarged photograph.

0:51:570:52:00

It's the same point of contact.

0:52:000:52:04

So here is Matthew Scott, having failed to signal to the locomotive.

0:52:040:52:08

That is the circus train with the boxcar

0:52:080:52:11

-that Jumbo was going to get into...

-Yep.

0:52:110:52:13

..and the locomotive has outrun him and hit him in the rear,

0:52:130:52:18

-and that's the end of poor Jumbo.

-Exactly.

0:52:180:52:21

-Not what Barnum said.

-No, not at all.

0:52:210:52:24

So Barnum's story was a complete invention.

0:52:240:52:28

Pure bunkum, as you would probably say.

0:52:280:52:30

DAVID CHUCKLES

0:52:300:52:32

With no evidence of fractures on Jumbo's bones,

0:52:350:52:39

it seems the most likely cause of death was internal bleeding.

0:52:390:52:43

So it's unlikely that Jumbo died instantly,

0:52:430:52:46

giving Scott time to say goodbye to his much-loved elephant.

0:52:460:52:51

Eyewitness accounts report that Scott rushed to Jumbo's side

0:53:010:53:06

and watched as he took one last breath and died.

0:53:060:53:10

His devoted keeper is said to have "wept inconsolably"

0:53:120:53:17

at the loss of his best friend.

0:53:170:53:19

Matthew Scott never really recovered

0:53:200:53:23

from the death of his beloved elephant.

0:53:230:53:25

He hung around the circus for some time

0:53:250:53:28

and then Barnum, in a business-like and brisk way, paid him off

0:53:280:53:33

and had Jumbo's body stuffed and mounted and paraded.

0:53:330:53:38

Jumbo was just 24 when he died.

0:53:430:53:46

His death became front-page news around the world.

0:53:500:53:54

The young elephant who had

0:53:560:53:58

arrived at London Zoo as an orphan

0:53:580:54:00

had become a hugely popular

0:54:000:54:02

and much-loved superstar.

0:54:020:54:04

He gave a great number of people enormous pleasure

0:54:090:54:12

and a vivid, unforgettable impression of the magnificence

0:54:120:54:16

of the natural world that lay far beyond European cities.

0:54:160:54:20

But we now know that the life he led

0:54:220:54:24

was not the right life for an elephant.

0:54:240:54:27

Keeping elephants locked up on their own

0:54:320:54:34

goes against everything that they've evolved to be.

0:54:340:54:38

Not having any choice, not having anything different

0:54:380:54:44

would be really detrimental to their wellbeing,

0:54:440:54:47

just like it's bad for people.

0:54:470:54:49

In the case of Jumbo,

0:54:580:54:59

I don't think there's anything worse than incarcerating an elephant.

0:54:590:55:05

A really, really tragic life lost.

0:55:050:55:08

Awful.

0:55:080:55:10

Maybe it's remarkable he survived as long as he did,

0:55:170:55:20

in the conditions that elephants were kept in at the time,

0:55:200:55:23

because no-one really knew how to care for an African elephant.

0:55:230:55:26

They were still mysterious, exotic animals

0:55:260:55:28

from deepest, darkest Africa.

0:55:280:55:30

We do have the choice of how we take care of elephants,

0:55:380:55:41

wherever they are, and Jumbo's a good case

0:55:410:55:43

of where we did not take good care of an elephant,

0:55:430:55:46

and we can learn from that.

0:55:460:55:47

Thankfully, we now have a much deeper understanding

0:55:560:56:00

of the needs of elephants.

0:56:000:56:02

We've come to realise that they should always be in the company

0:56:030:56:06

of their own kind so that they can build lasting relationships.

0:56:060:56:11

And they need space to live their lives.

0:56:120:56:15

But many held in captivity today do not have that space.

0:56:150:56:20

130 years after Jumbo was killed, there's good news.

0:56:210:56:25

Circuses across Europe and America

0:56:270:56:30

are sending their performing elephants into retirement.

0:56:300:56:34

Of course, the elephants can't be returned to the wild -

0:56:350:56:39

they were captured too young

0:56:390:56:41

to have learned the skills necessary to survive out there.

0:56:410:56:45

But, thankfully, there are sanctuaries,

0:56:460:56:48

like this one in Tennessee.

0:56:480:56:50

Here, there are great areas of woodland,

0:56:550:56:58

where the elephants can roam and do what they want to do,

0:56:580:57:02

and not what human beings tell them to do.

0:57:020:57:04

Jumbo's life was cut cruelly short

0:57:130:57:16

but these elephants will have a chance

0:57:160:57:19

of having a long and peaceful end to theirs.

0:57:190:57:23

David Attenborough investigates the remarkable life and death of Jumbo the elephant - an animal superstar whose story is said to have inspired the movie Dumbo.

Attenborough joins a team of scientists and conservationists to unravel the complex and mysterious story of this large African elephant - believed by many to be the biggest in the world. With unique access to Jumbo's skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History, the team work together to separate myth from reality. How big was Jumbo really? How was he treated in captivity? And how did he die? Jumbo's bones may offer vital clues.

Arriving in London Zoo in 1865, Jumbo fast became a firm favourite of Queen Victoria and her children, and was nicknamed the Children's Pet. Yet behind the scenes, this gentle giant was living a double life - smashing his den, breaking his tusks and being pacified by large amounts of alcohol given to him by his keeper, Matthew Scott. Scott had no human friends but had a deep empathy for animals, developing a particularly strong and near mystical bond with Jumbo.

Then, quite suddenly, London Zoo caused public outrage by selling Jumbo to PT Barnum's circus in America, where he travelled with his devoted keeper to start a new life. But while his time in America turned him into star with 20 million people coming to see him, his life ended tragically and mysteriously.

As well as Jumbo's skeleton, Attenborough explores the lives of wild elephants to explain Jumbo's troubled mind, and he discovers how our attitude to captive elephants has changed dramatically in recent years.