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As crowds of restless visitors pour into Tokyo’s Inokashira Park Zoo, one elderly elephant named Hanako stands lifelessly in a concrete dungeon, behind bars, alone and miserable. This has been her life for the last 61 years.

Born in Thailand, Hanako was shipped to Japan’s Ueno Zoo at just two years old to replace the previous elephants who had been deliberately starved to death during World War ll. A few years later, she was sent to the Inokashira Zoo, where she’s lived ever since.

At 68 years old, Hanako is now entering her twilight years and only has a short amount of time left. To make things worse, her health is failing. She lost most of her teeth decades ago and currently suffers from digestive problems. She’s also shown a history of violent outbursts which suggests that her mental health is far from flourishing.

After six decades of living in solitude, Hanako deserves to spend her final years with peace and dignity in a suitable elephant sanctuary where she can get the attention she needs.

Could this Be the Saddest and Loneliest Elephant in the World?

Life in the “Cruelest Zoo” in the World

Described by one visitor as “one of the cruelest, most archaic zoos in the modern world,” it’s easy to see why Hanako is miserable here.

In the wild, female elephants spend their entire lives with other members of their herd, but at Tokyo’s zoo, Hanako is kept in solitary confinement and nobody knows the last time she even saw another elephant. Like humans, elephants need other members of their species to live a happy and enriched life. Without companionship, elephants can spiral into a deep depression – one Hanako has already been suffering from for many years.

Could this Be the Saddest and Loneliest Elephant in the World?



As opposed to roaming through the Asian tropical forests, Hanako spends every day of her life in a tiny, barren pen with no grass or trees – only gray walls to keep her company. It’s a known fact that concrete floors cause damage to an elephant’s feet and limbs. Lameness or arthritis can be fatal for elephants as if they fall or collapse, the weight of their bodies can crush their internal organs. Living on nothing but concrete for 60 years has undoubtedly worn on Hanako’s body and it may only be a matter of time until the wear starts to show.

And if you think things can’t get much worse, they really can! A video from 2013 shows Hanako swaying back and forth as she plays with a piece of tubing, one of the only enrichments in her dismal enclosure.

This swaying, falsely confused with dancing to many visitors, is a stereotypical behavior common in captive-held elephants who are suffering from stress and depression.

In the worst cases, elephants who are driven mad by captivity will show signs of aggression towards zookeepers. Sadly, Hanako is one of these cases.

Captivity Kills

After years is solitary confinement, Hanako has developed an aggressive streak that has led to several incidents at the zoo. In 1956, she trampled a man who entered her enclosure and later a zookeeper. As punishment, she was kept in chains for many years. Sources say she’s also thrown a veterinarian, chased a staff member, and flipped a zoo keeper over the last five years.But Hanako is no monster.

Elephants only show violent outbursts when they  are placed in stressful environments. It’s especially common in zoos, where they deal with the frustrations of being restricted to tiny areas, just like Hanako does and has for many years. After all, elephants are known to roam around 30 miles a day in the wild. In a place like the Inokashira Zoo, that is not possible.

When you think about it, it’s no different from a human being locked up in a small room for 61 years without any form entertainment or comfort. When you put yourself in Hanako’s shoes, it’s easy to see why she’s so angry and depressed. Wouldn’t we all be if we were in her situation?

A Chance for Freedom

Time is running out for Hanako. She is not in good health right now and desperately needs us to stand up for her. She’s served Tokyo’s crowds for 61 years and now it’s time she got the peace and freedom she is rightfully owed.

Please sign this petition demanding that Hanako be transferred to an elephant sanctuary so that she can live out her last days in comfort. Share it with everyone you know! Let’s help free Hanako so that maybe, someday, she’ll feel the grass beneath her feet.

Image source: Ulara Nakagawa