Exotic animals owned by members of royalty are nothing new. In centuries past, foreign dignitaries and heads of state often gifted British royals and other diplomats with the rarest animals to be found in their parts of the world. In fact, the Tower of London was for over a century home to many of the specimens that found their way to England in this way until the Duke of Wellington declared that enough was enough and sent them all off to the London Zoo.
What is unusual is that Queen Victoria was once given an elephant – and kept it at Osborne House. From the Osborne House page at English Heritage:
Few members of the royal family have been quite as enthusiastic about their garden as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At Osborne they were able to indulge their desire for a fashionable garden, drawing inspiration from the gardens of Europe. Osborne offers an intimate glimpse into royal family life, where you can see the vegetable plots tended by the royal children, and the beach where Queen Victoria would go for a dip in the sea. But it wasn’t just the queen who went for dip on the royal estate – upon receiving a gift of a elephant from the King of Abyssinia in 1884, the queen needed a place for the animal to bathe for a few days. It was decided that the existing cattle pond would do, and ever since the pond has been named the ‘elephant bath’!
You can still see the Elephant Baths at Osborne today, in fact, it’s purported to be the only one in Europe and it stands as a hazard on the the 7th hole at the Osborne Golf Club. It should be noted that the elephant wasn’t the only one who enjoyed bathing at Osborne House. In fact, the entire Royal family enjoyed having a private beach of their own and often took advantage of the opportunity for sea bathing. You can read all about it in this Daily Mail article from 2012 about the re-opening of the private beach to the public and the return of Queen Victoria’s bathing machine to the property.