Sebas pickled elephant an African Bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) at Swedish Museum of Natural History

☨ Sebas pickled elephant
ID Number:Local id Number: 1 - 
Species: African Bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Sex and age:Male ♂ < 1, unknown Notice: Undefined variable: age in /customers/6/2/a/elephant.se/httpd.www/database2.php on line 850 Notice: Undefined variable: age in /customers/6/2/a/elephant.se/httpd.www/database2.php on line 868 more than years old (minimum age)
Dead date: <1753
Death reason: Fetal death in utero: removed from dead mothers uterus?
Location:Swedish Museum of Natural History
ArrivalSwedish Museum of Natural History
from Drottningholm Royal Palace
Drottningholm Royal Palace
from Adolf Fredrik of Sweden
Adolf Fredrik of Sweden 1753-05-18
from Albertus Seba
Albertus Seba
from Dutch East India Company (VOC Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie)
Dutch East India Company (VOC Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie)
from Unknown
Born:* <1753 wild Unknown
Document updated0000-00-00
Carl Linnaeus could hardly contain his excitement over his latest acquisition. “I am pleased that the little elephant has arrived. If he costs a lot, he was worth it. Certainly, he is as rare as a diamond,” the founding father of modern taxonomy wrote in a letter to a friend on 18 May 1753. Linnaeus dubbed the species Elephas maximus, which is now commonly known as the Asian elephant, and listed the elephant’s origin, or locality, as Zeylonae paludosis, or Ceylon, the island now called Sri Lanka. Whether or not Linnaeus knew its origin, his pickled pachyderm was cemented as the archetype for the Asian elephant.

Beginning in the 1800s, after the fetus was moved from the royal palace outside Stockholm to the building that became the Swedish Natural History Museum, curators there began to wonder whether their prized holding was mislabelled.

Later researchers enlisted Tom Gilbert to identify the species, an ancient-DNA expert at the University of Copenhagen, but he failed, even using what was then the world’s most advanced DNA sequencing technology.

Enrico Cappellini, a protein chemist, From a bit of oesophagus, Cappellini and Gilbert detected one protein that differed, by a single amino acid, between the two species. The protein was a portion of the haemoglobin complex that carries oxygen in red blood cells. In Asian elephants, the amino acid is aspartate, whereas in African elephants it is glutamate. Cappellini’s tests confirmed that Linnaeus’s elephant encoded glutamate. Mystery solved: the fetus that Linnaeus had taken as the archetype of the Asian elephant was, in fact, an African elephant.

Reference list

Koehl, D., (2020). Sebas pickled elephant, an African Bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) at Swedish Museum of Natural History in Sweden. Elephant Encyclopedia, available online retrieved 30 September 2020 at https://www.elephant.se/database2.php?elephant_id=1. (archived at the Wayback machine)

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