The Original Story of Dumbo

The dark truth about the world’s biggest animal superstar



Dumbo is one of the children’s most beloved Disney animal character. Like anyone who has unusual physical features, he was bullied in many ways. However, he managed to rise and fly above all these negativities.

Unfortunately, this did not happen to Jumbo the African elephant, the animal superstar of the mid-1800s, the same one who inspired the creators of Dumbo. His arrival in London in 1865 was big news considering his incredibly huge size and apparent gentleness with many of his fans.

Jumbo’s beginning was not a good one. He was born on a Christmas day in 1860 in Africa. Sadly, like Dumbo, he was only with his mother for a little while before hunters took her life. He was separated from the rest of his relatives when a Sudanese elephant hunter, Taher Sherriff, kidnapped little Jumbo. Shortly after his capture, Jumbo was sold to the highest bidder. Soon, he was headed for London to surprise the world with his gentle nature.

As baby taken into the London Zoo, Jumbo was just a normal young elephant. But he was a difficult elephant to calm. In contrast to his signature gentle nature, he displayed an uncontrollable temper that can only be remedied by alcohol. It was like that until his later years.


His caretakers noticed that he was growing unbelievably faster than the others, measuring at the height of 13 feet and weighing of up to 7 tons. Jumbo entered the circus life in Barnum & Bailey Circus show. Soon, news about him spread far and wide across London and continued on to Europe. People from the neighboring places and countries came and watched his main show. Even Queen Victoria and her children was smitten by him. It was because of Jumbo’s appearance that popularized the circus even today.

Unknown to his adoring fans, Jumbo was struggling big time. Evidence from his remains found many signs of stress and overworked injuries. It was then confirmed that while Jumbo was good with kids and giving generous rides during the day, he was a captive, alone, and horribly aching and raging at night, seeking for a home he was not allowed to see.

While many claimed that Jumbo was the largest animal who ever lived, this could be true today if his life was not cut short by a train accident. Traveling for Canada to perform there, Jumbo and the rest of his patrons made their unexpected farewells. It was after the show in 1885 that Jumbo, together with another elephant, was loaded back to the circus train. A freight train was fast approaching and crushed him with the rest, immediately killing him and ending his long suffering.

Jumbo’s end might not be as desirable as that of Dumbo, but it is a reminder of what harm and cruelty selfish desires can do to elephants like Jumbo.


Click on my blog at for more interesting topics about elephants. You can also buy my book, Tambo: An Elephant Adventure, already available in your favorite online bookstores.



Griffith, Cynthia. n.d. “The Bittersweet Story of Jumbo, the Most Famous Elephant on Earth.” Ranker. Accessed November 9, 2018.

Pietras, Emma. “Packed Off to the Circus: The tragic real-life story of the elephant who inspired the film Dumbo as Sir David Attenborough’s team investigates mystery of circus star.” The Sun, December 10, 2017.

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