Episode available within Canada only.

Deep inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City lies the skeleton of Jumbo, a creature so large his name became part of the English language, synonymous with being huge. But Jumbo was far more than the biggest act in the Barnum and Bailey Circus; he was also the world’s first animal superstar whose sudden death left a raft of mysteries that remain unsolved to this day:

Was he really the biggest elephant in the world?  How did he die? And was he suffering from tuberculosis?

Documentary Team Helps Solve Mysteries Surrounding Jumbo The Elephant’s Life and Death
New Research Shows That Elephants And Other Animals Can Suffer From PTSD
umbo's Stroll Over The Brooklyn Bridge

Untouched for decades, Jumbo’s bones are locked away for safekeeping. But for the first time in the history of the American Museum of Natural History, special access is being granted to an international team of scientists who will use the latest DNA, isotope and forensic analysis to answer the questions surrounding Jumbo.

The team is led by Richard Thomas, a paleopathologist from the University of Leicester. Working with him is John Hutchinson, a professor of evolutionary biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College, London, and Holly Miller an isotope expert from the University of Nottingham. Focusing on DNA analysis is Emil Karpinski from Hendrik Poinar’s Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton.

David Suzuki examines Jumbo's bones at the American Museum of National History.

But David Suzuki and this team of experts will do far more than unlock Jumbo’s secrets.  Through his forgotten skeleton, they will gradually build a picture of this giant over the course of his life revealing how a lack of knowledge about elephants affected Jumbo. 

MORE: Listen to an interview with director Christine Nielson on The Current.

Travelling to Africa, we will examine the latest science that reveals that elephants can suffer from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We will uncover the importance of the relationship between mothers and their babies and highlight the extraordinary work of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya who rescue orphaned elephants and return them to the wild. 

FROM THE FILM: After suffering injuries, Jumbo doesn't die alone.

We now know that elephants are highly intelligent animals and can only survive in complex social groups.  These realizations have resulted in some dramatic changes in the ways elephants are cared for and protected.

Jumbo lived under conditions that are unacceptable today.  But his giant presence made people think about elephants and sparked the first glimmers of interest in elephant behaviour.  A century and a half later, wild elephants will hopefully benefit from our greater understanding of these amazing animals.

Credits (Click to expand)

Written and Directed By
Christine Nielsen

Executive Producers
Dugald Maudsley
Stephen Dunleavy

Enzo Anile

Jeff Morrow

Additional Directors
Sharmila Choudhury
Winston Gallagher

Director of Photography
Jerry Vienneau
Eric Huyton
Jeffrey Morales
Robin Smith

Additional Camera
Terry Zazulak

Sound Recordists
Scott Chappel
Graham Ross
Andrew Yarme
David Jalenga
Igal Petel

Archive Producer
Elspeth Domville

Visual Research Assistant
Kristine Ryall

Visual Effects Designer
Mark Alberts

Arlene Moelker

Post Production Supervisor
Eric Wiegand

Re-Recording Mixer
Grant Edmonds

SFX Editor
Marc Chaisson

Assistant SFX Editor
Denice Badua

Special Thanks
Mike Baker
Kate Grounds
Dirk Hackenberger
Emil Karpinski
Karen McComb
Steve Peters
Hendrik Poinar
McMaster Ancient DNA Centre
Amboseli National Park
The British Geological Survey
Elgin County Museum
McMaster University
Tsavo East National Park
Tufts University
The University of Roehampton
The University of Sussex
Via Rail Canada
ZSL (Zoological Society of London)

Archival Material Courtesy of
Elgin County Museum
Andrew McClellan
Bridgeport Public Library
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
BBC Motion Gallery/Getty Images
Karen McComb
Library of Congress
London Zoo
John Edwards
New York Public Library
Steve Peters Collection
Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives
The Strobridge Lithographing Company
Collection of John and Mable Ringling

For Infield Fly Productions

Dugald Maudsley

Production Manager
Diane Marcotte

Production Coordinator
Gillian Main

Business Affairs
Gillian Main

David McCaughna

Production Assistants
Dave Grenon
Tania Piunno

For Humble Bee Films

Stephen Dunleavy

Consulting Producer
Sharmila Choudhury

Production Manager
Elena Wong

Head of Production
Lisa Walters

Post Production Supervisor
Patsy Hayden

Edit Assistant
Adam Evans


General Manager, Programming
Sally Catto

Executive Director, Unscripted Content
Jennifer Dettman

Senior Director, Documentary
Sandra Kleinfeld

Director of Production, Unscripted Content
Alexandra Lane

Executive In Charge of Production
Sue Dando
Director of Finance, Unscripted Content
Julie Lawlor

A Canada-United Kingdom Co-Production

Co-Produced by Infield Fly Productions
And Humble Bee Films

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