6. Kandula: The Elephant Who Helped Unify Sri Lanka
Another famed ancient elephant was the trusty companion of King Dutugamunu, the second-century B.C. ruler of Sri Lanka, who famously defeated King Elara, his South Indian rival, to become ruler of the entire island of Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka). Cᴀᴘᴛᴜʀᴇᴅ in the forest around the time of Dutugamunu’s birth, the elephant Kandula grew up alongside the young prince. As the royal mount, he performed heroically in the siege of Vijitanagara (161 B.C.), returning to finish breaking down a fortified gate after recovering from having molten pitch poured on his back. According to the Mahavamsa, an ancient Buddhist chronicle, the king rushed to Kandula to administer a salve, exclaiming, “Dear Kandula, I’ll make you the lord of all Ceylon!” Later Kandula was Dutugamunu’s mount in his one-on-one combat when he defeated Elara (whose elephant’s name, Maha Pambata, means “big rock.”)
7. Lin Wang: World Wᴀʀ II Veteran and National Symbol of Taiwan
In 1942 the Japanese ɪɴᴠᴀᴅᴇd Burma, commandeering work elephants to build roads and fortifications. A year later, Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Expeditionary Forces ᴄᴀᴘᴛᴜʀᴇᴅ 13 of the Japanese elephants, marching them to China along the Burma Road. After World Wᴀʀ II’s end, the seven surviving elephants from that group were used to build ᴡᴀʀ monuments. In 1947 three were taken to Taiwan. Three years later, there was only one surviving elephant. Nicknamed Lin Wang (“forest king”), the elephant was donated to the Taipei City Zoo in 1954, where he became a popular attraction. After his ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ in 2003 at the published age of 86 (few elephants live past 70), Lin Wang was made a posthumous citizen of Taipei.
8. Henry III’s Elephant
Charlemagne was hardly the only Medieval European ruler to be the recipient of large-mammal diplomacy. Henry III, who ruled England from 1207 to 1272, was the recipient of several such gifts. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II sent him a camel, while the king of Norway gave a polar bear. But Henry’s biggest gift came from France’s Louis IX—an African elephant. Henry quickly dispatched the Sheriff of London to build, without delay, “one house of forty feet long and twenty feet deep, for our elephant.” Crowds flocked to see it, including the English chronicler and illustrator Matthew Paris, who made a remarkably detailed illustration of the beast. Sadly, after just two years as the toast of London, Henry’s elephant ᴅɪᴇd, purportedly after having been given too much red wine to drink.
9. Jumbo: The Elephant Who Became an Adjective
Though it was never given to a king or president, the 19th’s century’s most famous pachyderm counted Queen Victoria as a devoted fan. Cᴀᴘᴛᴜʀᴇᴅ by a river in the spring of 1861 in what is now Mali, Jumbo was eventually taken, by way of a Fʀᴇɴᴄʜ zoo, to the London Zoological Society. There the bull elephant became a hugely popular attraction, ferrying a dozen children at a time around the garden. His name quickly became a synonym for anything gigantic. In 1882 the zoo set off a nationalist controversy after it agreed to sell Jumbo to the American entrepreneur and showman P.T. Barnum for $10,000. Donor campaigns, prayer vigils and Jumbo’s own dislike of shipping crates were ultiᴍᴀᴛᴇly unable to keep him on British soil. It took Barnum just two weeks of American circus ticket sales to recover the cost of Jumbo’s purchase and transport.
How big was jumbo? According to Barnum’s publicity, he stood 7 feet tall and weighed 7 tons. Jumbo was the star of the Barnum & Bailey Circus until 1885, when he was struck and ᴋɪʟʟed in an Ontario rail-yard ᴀᴄᴄɪᴅᴇɴᴛ. In the years following Jumbo’s ᴅᴇᴀᴛʜ, Barnum continued to make handsome profits exhiʙɪᴛing the elephant’s skeleton and taxidermic hide.
10. Hanno: Pope’s Pet, Artist’s Muse, and Critic’s Barb
In 1514 a grand procession, led by the Portuguese explorer Tristan de Cunha, ᴡᴏᴜɴᴅ its way into Rome. Its highlight was a white Indian elephant, covered in gold brocade and topped with a silver safe containing precious gifts. This was Hanno, sent by King Manuel I of Portugal as a gift to Pope Leo X. On cue, the trained animal knelt before the pontiff, and delighted onlookers by spraying them with a trunkful of water. Hanno was the centerpiece of Manuel’s strategy to win papal backing for Portugal’s claim to the newly discovered Spice Islands in present-day Indonesia—then the world’s sole source of mace and nutmeg. The strategy worked, and for several years Hanno made appearances at various Roman festivals. After the elephant ᴅɪᴇd in 1516 at the age of seven, Leo commissioned the artist Raphael to create a memorial portrait of the beast (now lost). Leo’s devotion to Hanno provided fuel for the pope’s critics, including Martin Luther, describing Leo as “indolently catching flies while his pet elephant cavorted before him.”