In A Nutshell
Asian elephant Lin Wang was thrust into World War II as a pack mule, hauling Japanese supplies around in the jungles of Burma. In 1943, his time with the Axis came to an end: He was captured by Chinese soldiers, who employed him for the same purpose. He lived to be the world’s oldest elephant.
The Whole Bushel
The Second Sino-Japanese War—which would later become the Pacific Front of World War II—began in 1939, reigniting a decades-old struggle between China and Japan. Forces clashed on the Asian continent, fighting in China as well as Burma (then controlled by the British; now Myanmar).
Enter Lin Wang. The Asian elephant was employed by the Japanese military as a laborer, tasked with transporting army supplies through the Burmese jungle. His service to the Axis ended in 1943, when Chinese Expeditionary Forces came across his unit. The Chinese emerged victorious, and took Lin Wang as prisoner among other elephants. Lin Wang was then forced to continue the same laborious routine, but for the Allies. He was moved to the Chinese mainland.
After a stint in China, Lin Wang was shipped to Taiwan to assist in the training of new Chinese troops. By the time he arrived in Taiwan, he was the only elephant from the original Burmese group that remained alive.
Lin Wang’s service continued until 1954, when he was retired to Taipei Zoo, Taiwan. It was here that he met his female companion, Ma Lan. Lin Wang proved extremely popular to his new Taiwanese visitors.
Lin Wang has the distinction of being the oldest captive elephant ever recorded. While most Asian elephants live around 60 years, Lin Wang managed to reach 86. He died in 2003. Besides health concerns brought on by old age, his death may have been the result of sorrow: Ma Lan had died a year earlier, and the elephant reportedly was in poor spirits as a result.
Lin Wang was mourned by the people of Taiwan, who lit incense and burned money (a traditional practice). Taipei Zoo also held a moment of silence for the elephant. Collected donations of $144,000 allowed the zoo to afford taxidermy for Lin Wang.