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Lions, tigers & elephants

ImageWhen London Zoo first opened, visitors could see their first lion, tiger or zebra - but the star of all time was Jumbo the elephant. Hunters had torn Jumbo from his Mum in Africa ... 

... first of all killing his Mum.  These horrible hunters chopped her up to sell her lovely ivory tusks - and then started her little elephant calf on his long, long journey from Sudan in Africa to another life hundreds of miles away: slowly he plodded across the Sahara desert, up the Red Sea, travelling on boats and then by train, spending weeks getting to a zoo in Paris.
When Jumbo had arrived in France, he was the first African elephant to have been seen in Europe since the days of the Romans.  But after all that, it turned out that there was not enough room for Jumbo in the Paris zoo.  It was not long before he was sold, and off he went on his travels once again.   

In 1865 at last Jumbo arrived on a train at Waterloo Station, and soon he was led to his new home at the Zoological Society in London's Regent's Park.   By the time Jumbo came along, the London Zoo had become a huge success.  It had got started almost forty years earlier because -as King George IV said when he granted a royal charter:-

"Several of our loving subjects are desirous of forming a Society for the advancement of Zoology and Animal Physiology, and the introduction of new and curious subjects of the Animal Kingdom".  And, added King George, (who was the very person who Regent's Park and the Regent's Canal were named after): "We  are desirous to encourage so laudable an undertaking". 

ImageRight from the start, people all over the world were fascinated to find out more about the collection of exotic animals in Regent's Park.  Some of the Members of the new Society lived nearby, but others who  joined lived in places as far away as Cornwall or Calcutta, Trinidad or Tripoli, Australia or Brazil.  Some animals were given as presents to the zoo, others were sold - and soon the numbers of birds and animals living in Regent's Park grew.   

At the end on its first year there were 627 animals (152 quadrupeds and 475 birds), and  over 112,000 people had already visited the zoo.  For the first time ever, there were polar bears and armadillos, vultures and parrots, camels and leopards all sharing a home right in the West End of London.   Soon the plans were drawn up for pits for bears, stables for llamas and aviaries for birds to live in.

When Jumbo arrived at the his new home, he was only about four feet (1.2 metres) tall, which was quite little - for an elephant: but like all African elephants, Jumbo had huge ears!  He settled in very nicely: he was very big friends with Mr Scott his keeper, and Jumbo grew bigger and stronger every day, until he was over eleven feet (nearly 3.5 metres) tall.   At first he shared a house with the Asian elephants who lived in the zoo, but it was not long before Alice, another African elephant came to live in the zoo with him and a special house was built for them.

Of all the animals of all shapes and sizes, from countries all over the world, it was the giant Jumbo that everyone wanted to see when they came to the zoo.  He was the one that they called "The Children's Friend",  and there were queues of children waiting for a ride on his back.   Year after year, from two to six o'clock in the afternoon, Jumbo and Mr. Scott  would patiently show the children around.  The six ton elephant would kneel down, and for two pennies children would be able to climb up onto a platform on his back, and  go on an unforgettable tour around the Zoological Gardens. Jumbo would happily munch on buns and peanuts, wave his keeper's bowler hat in the air with his trunk, while the children had a fabulous fifteen minutes with a bird's eye view of the animals.

ImageBut there was somebody who was plotting to take Jumbo away from London Zoo.  Mr Barnum was desperate to buy the famous elephant for his circus in America - and the person he went to for advice was William Jamrach, an animal dealer who lived in Lordship Road in Stoke Newington.  William had an amazing reputation, he had helped Mr. Barnum buy lots of Asian elephants for his show in the past.

Mr. Barnum was willing to pay a fortune, so he was sure he could buy Jumbo for America. But William laughed at the idea, because he was sure that the London Zoo would never sell their most popular animal - and even if they wanted to, the public would never let them get away with it. Gently, William explained to Mr. Barnum that in England Jumbo was a national icon, as popular as the Prince of Wales, adding  "You might as well think of buying Nelson's Column !".  

Mr. Barnum did not give up his scheme of buying Jumbo.  And, in the end, both men turned out to be right.  Eventually, the Zoo was secretly worried because Jumbo was getting to be very bad tempered - and when an animal the size of Jumbo loses its temper there could be a terrible accident.  So when Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Shown on Earth offered £2,000 (which is worth over £140,000 nowadays) the Zoo suddenly said yes - and that should have been that.  

But thousands of people were very angry and did everything they could to fight for Jumbo. They sent letters to the Zoo, to the newspapers and even to Queen Victoria.  They  went to court to ask a judge to stop it - but the judge said he could not help them.  Then, for weeks Jumbo himself refused to move anywhere.  Time after time the zoo tried to get Jumbo into a special cart to take him to the London docks, Jumbo just would not get inside.  The Jumbo story had become a huge national crisis until, in the end, Mr Barnum won the day and poor Jumbo had to leave London. In April 1882 thousands of people lined the streets to say goodbye to The People's Friend, and his loyal keeper Mr. Scott,  as they set off across London to the docks at Tilbury.

For Jumbo to start another life in America.  New York threw parties to welcome their new friend, but Jumbo's time with the Greatest Show on Earth was going to end in tragedy - but that's another story ....
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