Monorail elephant

In 1950 Tuffi the elephant fell 12 metres out of a suspended monorail into a river. She survived.

Tuffi painting
Atamari, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What is it with elephants and cruel publicity stunts? In 2019 I wrote about the harried life and cruel death of Topsy, so today I thought I’d write about an elephant publicity stunt with a happier ending.

The city of Wuppertal in Germany has a suspended monorail. The Wuppertal Schwebebahn has been open to the public for 120 years, making it the first non-experimental suspension railway in the world. This is what it looks like today:

Wuppertal suspension railway
Mbdortmund, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1950 a circus decided that it would be a good publicity stunt to put an elephant in one of these suspended wagons. The circus director purchased five tickets: one for him, and four for Tuffi, a four-year-old Asian elephant. Tuffi entered German folklore when she panicked, crashed through the wagon (injuring some of the other riders), smashed a window, and then fell out.

Now, I say “fell out” rather than “jumped” because elephants are incapable of jumping. An elephant can be stopped by a steep ditch. They cannot even run – in the sense of having all four legs off the ground at the same time. You can imagine what a shock it was, therefore, for poor Tuffi to find all four legs free-falling towards the River Wupper below.

Tuffi the elephant fell twelve metres, landed in the muddy water, and swum to safety with only minor injuries. Elephants may not be able to jump but they can certainly swim (one elephant – not Tuffi – is on record as swimming 48km in one go). This is how the elephant got her name, incidentally: “Tuffi” translates roughly from Italian as “dive.”

The circus director got off at the next stop, and went back to rescue her. The circus was fined for their ill-conceived stunt and the elephant lived for another thirty-nine years.

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