Visitors to zoos today see animals housed in large enclosures where the creatures have room to play, exercise and interact with their own kind. This wasn’t always the case. More than a century ago, animals were kept behind bars in small cages. Sometimes the situation was even worse, as with Gunda the elephant, an inmate at the Bronx Zoological Park in 1914.
Newspaper accounts vary, but Gunda was somewhere between 16 and 19 years old in 1914. He had been brought from India a decade earlier and was not yet fully grown. Newspapers called him the world’s largest pachyderm, and he was 9.5 feet tall and an estimated 9,000 pounds.
When Gunda was first brought to the zoo, children rode on his back. But in 1908, he began to exhibit “irksome behavior” and was considered dangerous from 1910 onward.
For a while, he was visited by an old lady, but she hadn’t visited in a while and his behavior grew worse.