elephant history: hanno

March 12, 2010

Think about getting an elephant as a gift… interesting gift right? I mean I would love to have an elephant but I dont expect to find an elephant with a bow on it, sitting on my front porch on my 23rd birthday. Although dreams do come true so you never know…

Anyway, Hanno, the white elephant, was a gift. King Manuel I of Portugal gave Pope Leo X the Asian elephant on the the Pope’s coronation. So I guess King Manuel thought to himself what would my good friend the Pope like as a gift and then he had an epiphany…an elephant!!! a white one! Most likely Hanno was albino. Albino elephants can be white or pink. (Interesting fact, i know)

Well, it turns out Pope Leo X loved Hanno dearly. Hanno became the Pope’s favorite pet and he spent tons of quality time with Hanno. Hanno often participated in processions as well.

The sad thing is Hanno died at the age of 6. Hanno lived from 1510 to June 8th 1516. It is said that Hanno had a bad case of constipation, and they tried to treat it. However, the treatment ended up killing the young elephant. Pope Leo X, a good master and friend, was at Hanno’s side at the time of his death. Hanno was buried in the Cortile del Belvedere, and the Pope wrote Hanno’s epitaph. It read:

Under this great hill I lie buried

Mighty elephant which the King Manuel
Having conquered the Orient
Sent as captive to Pope Leo X.
At which the Roman people marvelled, —
A beast not seen for a long time,
And in my brutish breast they perceived human feelings.
Fate envied me my residence in the blessed Latium
And had not the patience to let me serve my master a full three years.
But I wish, oh gods, that the time which Nature would have assigned to me,
and Destiny stole away,
You will add to the life of the great Leo.

He lived seven years
He died of angina
He measured twelve palms in height.
Giovanni Battista Branconio dell’Aquila
Privy chamberlain to the pope
And provost of the custody of the elephant,
Has erected this in 1516, the 8th of June,
In the fourth year of the pontificate of Leo X.

That which Nature has stolen away
Raphael of Urbino with his art has restored.

To learn more about Hanno, read The Pope’s Elephant by Silvio A. Bedini

sketch of Hanno



  1. Interesting. Too bad they didn’t have a proper elephant doctor. 6 is very young.

    Now my dear, as far as your birthday is concerned, YOU CAN have a baby elephant. In case you don’t already know them, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (my favorite charity) has a foster parents program. They rescue orphaned ellies (and rhinos) in Kenya, nurse them back to health, and reintroduce them into the wild. If you support their work with a $50 donation, they will send you monthly updates on your baby. Let me tell you, the keepers tend every nuance, and the letter you get will MELT YOU. You’ll know how their health is and who their elephant friends are, it’s wonderful.

    Best part? If you’re a foster parent and go to Nairobi, you get a special back stage visit with your baby. I’ve done it. AMAZING.

    Here’s the link for you to check out the adoptees: http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/fostering.asp

    • WOW this sounds GREAT!!! i will look into it. i don’t know if i can wait until my birthday. i may have to buy myself an early gift :) thanks for the info!

  2. Why wait, when the babies need you now? One small caveat though is that understand that the babies don’t always make it. My first adoptee, Nalitu, died–on my birthday no less. I was devastated. And yet, THAT was what forged my conservationist heart and made me book a ticket to Kenya and deepen my path. Yet also know, that some DO make it! It’s so beautiful!

  3. you will have to have a REALLY big backyard to hold a pet elephant!!!

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