I find it a fascinating story and one with enough poignant pachydermal pathos to engage even an old cynic like me. His mother killed by hunters, young Jumbo—the runt of his family—was hauled off to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. There he led an unhappy existence in cramped quarters before being sold to the Royal Zoological Grounds in London in late June 1865. His zookeeper at Regent’s Park, Matthew Scott, was an anti-social eccentric who became as much his companion as his keeper, rarely venturing far from Jumbo for the rest of the elephant’s life.
In 1882, Jumbo's life took another unexpected turn: the US showman Phineas T Barnum bought him for his circus for £2,000, worth around £200,000 today, give or take a few pounds. After packing his trunk, Jumbo resisted the change—it took many struggles and then trickery to get him into a crate and onto a ship to New York. Upon arrival there, he was greeted as an exemplar of his species, supposedly far larger than normal, though in fact he wasn’t—it was just another of Barnum’s publicity ploys.
And Jumbo’s legacy? He’s given us a word for 'big' in the English dictionary and has inspired a very readable biography. Not bad for the runt of the pack, eh?