Elephant of Murten – Bern, Switzerland - Atlas Obscura

Elephant of Murten

Natural History Museum of Bern

The skeleton of a 19th-century elephant that was executed by cannonball.  


Animals were once a staple of every well-to-do circus show. Though the practice is largely on the way out now, lions, elephants, tigers, and many more exotic animals would be carted around and shown to the masses. Confined to small cages and often forced to perform, it’s no surprise that these animals were generally not happy with the situation and accidents happened. So what if an elephant goes on a rampage? 

This is what happened in 1866, when a circus elephant from the Bell & Myers circus likely went into musth, a condition during mating where male elephants get a large spike of testosterone and often exhibit aggressive behavior. The elephant killed its keeper of 14 years and went on a rampage in the town. The circus decided that the elephant was too dangerous to keep alive and asked the city to kill it, this was done using a cannon, which was brought in from another town and then shot at the beast. 

As was customary in such events, the circus gave the carcass to the town as a means of compensation, letting the townsfolk eat the meat and exhibit the remains. For a while, the elephant skeleton and skin were on display in the town, but this was not profitable enough so the remains were sold to the Natural History Museum of Bern, where the elephant skeleton can still be found today. It is mounted on a slowly moving carousel that features several other animal skeletons.

Know Before You Go

The elephant is at the end of the skeleton room on the first floor. Don't forget to also check out the historical dioramas. 

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