AbZOOlutely Not** or The Controversy of Zoos & Others Keeping Elephants in Captivity

Our Beloved Hanako “The Loneliest Elephant in the World” Has Died in Her “Concrete Prison” at the Age of 69 : As Cause of Death Revealed “Fans” Gather at the Tokyo Zoo to Remember the Pachyderm One Last Time

As all elephant lovers were saddened by the death of Hanako, who was transported to the only home she would know, the Inokashira Park Zoo, as a baby elephant (aged 2), they are also feeling relieved  that this elderly pachyderm (“the oldest living elephant in Japan“) no longer has to endure such a solitary and constrained life.


Hanako the Elephant Behind Bars Tokyo, Japan    Image: CC Flickr


Found lying on her side after sun-up, on Thursday 26 May 2016, she never recovered** or regained the ability to stand. By the afternoon, despite “repeated efforts to raise her upright,” Hanako’s life ended in peace, Naoya Ohashi a spokesperson for the zoo said.

**Recently reported, the autopsy on Hanako revealed that the elephant “died due to respiratory failure associated with her ongoing pulmonary congestion problems.” Another news outlet described Hanako’s death this way: “the Tokyo metropolitan government said Hanako died from suffocation. Her lungs were pressured under her weight as she lied (sic) sideways for an extended period time”. Experts say, both young and old elephants that lay on their sides for any extended amount of time increase their chances of damaging their internal organs. It was announced that “Hanako’s body would be donated to the National Museum of Nature and Science in central Tokyo for use in research.”


Hanako the Elephant Has Died at the Age of 69 in a Tokyo Zoo   Image: CC wiki


Hanako’s story drew worldwide attention when a petition was launched by Canadian blogger (who writes with such eloquence, by the way) & animal activist Ulara Nakagawa , to help the aging elephant (she was 69 which is considered elderly for pachyderms). She even made a special visit to see Hanako at the Inokashira Park Zoo. (Renowned elephant expert Carol Buckley, on that trip with Ulara, made many recommendations  for Hanako’s welfare.)

Unable to adapt to the modifications that were being put in place exclusively for her well-being,  the first of which was a  “security fence in her outdoor enclosure,” enabling her keepers to “spend more time with her outdoors,” Hanako became withdrawn (Hanako had initially become “frightened” by the clanging “of the construction”). In response to her distress, the new fencing was dismantled and taken away.

In March her annual birthday celebration was quietly cancelled.  (Hanako, whose Japanese name means “Flower Child,” had always delighted in the succulent strawberries presented to her in years past.) Around this time Hanako had shown signs that her body and spirit were gradually fading. The elephant had not been eating at all like she should. And it was this small intake of nourishment (coupled with Hanako’s age & her fragile emotional/physical state) that “gradually” brought on her “weakened” health.


Hanako Elephant Drawing   credit: Natsumi Tsuchida   CC Flickr


Hanako’s Legacy

Ulara Nakagawa has high hopes for “Hanako’s legacy.” She is calling out to that those who have professed their love for the elderly elephant. “Fans” of Hanako are urged to “better educate themselves on elephant welfare and to work to expose and improve the living conditions of the many other captive zoo elephants. For they truly “need us”.

If only those 500 mourners who showed up at the zoo to leave flowers and “other offerings” to Hanako in a makeshift memorial, would reconsider their thinking about elephants in captivity, that would be a start. It’s as simple as putting the well being of the elephants before yourselves (and no disrespect is ever intended).  A “farewell event” may also be in the works to remember the life of Hanako.


“Fans” of Hanako the Elephant Gather at Tokyo Zoo      Image: CC Wiki


“Fans” of Hanako the Elephant Gather at Tokyo Zoo    Image: CC Wiki


Nakagawa also relayed fears that another “Japanese Zoo will succeed in their quest to “import 4 wild-captured elephants from Myanmar”. Elephant activists agree this cannot happen. There cannot be any more Hanako’s (“no more Hanako’s” ) forced into a life in a “concrete prison” as our Hanako the elephant in Japan lived.

Compound of Hanako the Elephant Adorned With Flowers at Tokyo Zoo   Image: CC Wiki



Compound of Hanako the Elephant Adorned With Flowers at Tokyo Zoo   Image: CC Wiki


If Hidemasa Hori, deputy director and curator of the Inokashira Park Zoo is truly “filled with sorrow” by Hanako’s death he will never hold another elephant in captivity again. He will respect nature and an elephant’s need to remain with their elephant family and to forage and roam.

Elephants just want to be elephants. We should all agree on that.


Hanako the elephant at her Zoo in Tokyo, Japan    Image: CC Flickr


RIP our beloved elephant, Hanako.

The life you endured will not be in vain, Hanako. We will continue to fight for the welfare of all elephants in captivity.

We loved you so but feel a peace that now your soul is free.


Memorial Flowers for Hanako the Elephant at Tokyo Zoo     Image: CC Wiki


Photo credit: Hanako photos from CC wiki,    Hanako photos from CC Flickr,  Hanako CC wiki at her zoo compound,  Drawing of Elephant Hanako by Natsumi Tsuchida CC Flickr

See Also: Photos of Hanako released by Tokyo-Zoo.net

Watch YouTube Video: Ulara’s Campaign For Hanako / Ulara Nakagawa & Carol Buckley Visit Hanako in Japan


Memorial Offerings Fruit & Flowers to Hanako the Elephant at Tokyo Zoo     Image: CC Wiki



** RE: the Category AbZOOlutely Not** or The Controversy of Zoos & Others Keeping Elephants in Captivity.  While there are some Zoos & others that demonstrate exemplary methods of elephant care, unfortunately, they do not represent the “lion’s share”.

One thought on “Our Beloved Hanako “The Loneliest Elephant in the World” Has Died in Her “Concrete Prison” at the Age of 69 : As Cause of Death Revealed “Fans” Gather at the Tokyo Zoo to Remember the Pachyderm One Last Time


    Hanako… I hoped along with you. You are a bright light to me…always.
    I am so glad you will be at peace from people wo are truly hateful and evil.
    You and all of you …never deserved any of this, ….ever!
    Please continue to …hope. ..I know I do. I look for it. Be ~loved~ Hanako.

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