Famous Elephants


The intelligence and sensitivity coupled with the immense power of the impressive elephant has meant many a screen- or stage performance for these mysterious animals.

In fact, not only have elephants gained their fame on film, but tales of the unique animals have made them famous world-wide for many different feats.

Perhaps the most famous of all on-screen stars is Jumbo Jr., the little elephant cruelly nicknamed Dumbo by his mean peers because of his huge ears and navely friendly disposition. He has been separated from his mother by the circus keepers, and his only friend is Timothy, the mouse. Jumbo Jr. learns to use his "disability" to his advantage, using his ears to fly and earning respect and fame with his "flying elephant" performance. This was one of Disney's shortest films, at just over an hour long (64 mins). It was released in 1941, and was based on the children's book written by Helen Aberson. The book, however, consisted of only 8 drawings and very little written content, so how Walt Disney came across the story remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it became one of the greatest children's classics, and remains a popular choice and reference point even today. Bill Tytla was the animation artist for the film, and his work continues to be considered some of the most classic American animation to date.

Nelly the Elephant was also made famous through the children's song of the same name. This song tells of the escape of Nelly from the travelling circus en route to Bombay after she hears the trumpeting calls from the head of her herd. Interestingly, the beat of this song is used to demonstrate the cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) rhythm. The number of compressions per breaths should be 30:2. By the time the song has been sung twice, with one compression per bar, the CPR administrator will have given exactly 30 compressions by the final "trump".

Ruby was an Asian or Indian elephant famous for her art. She lived in the Phoenix Zoo and was born in approximately 1973. She was sent to the zoo when she was only a year old. Ruby's talent was discovered when she was seen scratching shapes into the sand with a stick. Once handed a brush and paints, her career began. One of her paintings sold for $100,000. Sadly, Ruby was put to sleep after a problematic pregnancy in 1998.

Batyr, also an Asian elephant, was said to have the ability to mimic human speech precisely. Although he descended from wild Indian elephants, he was born and lived his entire life (1969 - 1993) in the Karaganda Zoo in Kazakhstan, without ever seeing another elephant. Employees of the zoo noticed that he mimicked their speech, and this became a major drawcard for visitors from all over the world. His vocabulary included what sounded like "water", as well as several comments of chastisement to himself, amusing onlookers. Dr. A. N. Pogrebnoj-Aleksandroff studied Batyr and his unique abilities. One of his comments on the phenomenon was, Batyr, on the level of natural blares, said the words "by manipulating a trunk. Having put the trunk in a mouth, pressing a tip of the trunk by the bottom of jaw and manipulating of tongue, said words. Besides, being in a corner of the cage (quite often at the nights) with the hanging down and weakened his trunk the elephant said words very silently that sound is comparable with a sound of ultrasonic devices against mosquitoes. During pronouncing of words, only the tip of the trunk of the elephant has been clamped inside and Batyr made insignificant movements by a finger-shaped shoot on the trunk tip(sic).

It is no secret that elephants are intriguing, alluring and ultimately captivating. However, when we consider the unique abilities and attractions of some of the better known ones, we come to appreciate their value both within the global fauna as well as in our cultural enrichment.