The Most Famous Elephants Throughout History

Elephants are majestic creaturies. Currently, the African bush elephant, African forest elephant, and Asian elephant are the three species recognized. They are among the smartest creatures in the world, with their intelligence even being compared with that of primates. In addition to their mental capabilities, elephants have also been known to exhibit self-awareness and profound empathy for their own kind.

Unfortunately, elephants are greatly at risk, both due to habitat loss as a result of climate change and from poachers who seek to illegally trade their ivory tusks. Save the Elephant Day, taking place annually on April 16, is an international movement to secure elephants’ future and sustain the species.

To mark this occasion, we’re taking a look back to celebrate some of the most famous (and infamous) elephants ever.


Abul-Abbas was an Asian elephant who was given as a gift to the emperor Charlemagne by the fifth Abbasid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid. Charlemagne even took Abul-Abbas to his war with the Danes in 804.

He was one of the elephants to be remembered by name, as both it and events from his life were recorded in the Carolingian Annales regni Francorum.

Black Diamond

Black Diamond was one of many captive elephants killed for having a temper. An Indian elephant who was owned by the Al G. Barnes Circus, he was thought to be the largest captive elephant of his kind at the time. He killed several people and was eventually shot to death in 1929 after going on a rampage that resulted in the death of his long-time former trainer’s employer.


Echo was an African bush elephant matriarch who was known as the “most studied elephant in the world.” Ethologist Cynthia Moss studied Echo for over three decades — she was the first subject of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, which was the longest-running study of any land mammal.


Fanny was a female Asian elephant born in the wild who spent most of her life in Slater Park Zoo, a small facility in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. She was previously a circus elephant with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and while at the Slater Park Zoo, she became a symbol of the city of Pawtucket. A fiberglass sculpture of her was even erected in 2007.

Gajarajan Guruvayur Keshavan

Keshavan is arguably the most famous and beloved temple elephant in India. The elephant, who died in 1976, was known for his particularly devout religious behavior. The day of his death is still celebrated annually by those in Guruvauyur.

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2 thoughts on “The Most Famous Elephants Throughout History”

  1. My wife is Thai. We often talk of elephants in general and specific. When we were dating it was not unusual to be chatting on the phone and have my then girlfriend say, ” I have to go now, someone at the door wants to get some food for their elephant.” My wife’s family business was a sugar cane farm. That thought always struck me very satisfyingly and calming to know that someone’s neighbors had their own elephants.

  2. David Wasserman

    I was surprised this article omitted Jumbo the elephant, easily one of the most famous of all. He was the largest elephant in captivity for a while and was eventually owned by the Barnum and Bailey Circus. While in England, many future celebrities rode on his back as children, including Winston Churchill . The English, who loved him, were quite upset when PT Barnum brought him to America. He ended up the mascot of Tufts University, whose founder, Charles Tufts, was a friend of Barnum. After his death, his stuffed body was displayed in a building at Tufts.

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