68 year old Hanako may be the oldest elephant in Japan, but it is most probably the saddest one too. She has lived alone in a cell made out of concrete for the last 61 years of her life. The cell which is housed at the Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo is a barren enclosure with no trees or grass but just walls and floors of thick concrete.
The Japan Times recorded that Hanako was given birth to in 1947 in Thailand and at the tender age of 2, was shipped to the Ueno Zoo in Japan. The acquisition of Hanako was for it to server as a replacement for elephants previously housed by the zoo, all of which became victims of World War II as the then Governor of Tokyo ordered for them to be starved to death. She was transferred to Inokashira few years later and has lived there ever since.
Like any animal will respond to mistreatment, Hanako has developed a streak of violence to match the life she has been dealt and in 1956, the Japan Times reports that a man who went into her enclosure was trampled by the elephant, and she later did the same to a zookeeper – something which had her kept in chains for many years. The media house further reports that the behavioral issues are deteriorating with her advancing age and she has become more temperamental.
Another paper reported in in article posted in 2011 that in the preceding five – year period, Hanako had thrown a veterinarian, flipped a keeper and chased a staffer.
People are coming out to agitate for an end to the torturous life the elephant has been through. Her home was described by a recent visitor as being cruel beyond compare and the most terribly archaic zoo in the modern world. Hanako is reportedly denied of any form of stimulation and comfort and it just trudges daily through its mundane life like a figurine – nearly lifeless.
A 2013 video showed the aged elephant playing disinterestedly with a material that could have been a piece of robe or tubing – one of the very limited highlights of an otherwise trauma – inducing tiny prison which it had for a pen.
Leader of the elephant’s care team Mikio Mirofushi believes its aggression isn’t an accident, stating that such does not occur with elephants.
A petition to release Hanako to a sanctuary or have it treated better has amassed several thousands of supporters, it also includes a request of medical attention for the sick elephant who is battling digestive problems, access to a pool and the freedom to interact with other members of its own kind – after so long – before the end.
But the chances are quite slim, since very few elephant sanctuaries have Japanese connections.