Hanako, or ‘flower child’, who was described by campaigners as the ‘loneliest elephant in the world’, died at the age of 69 at Inokashira Park Zoo in the Japanese capital.
She was a gift from the Thai governmentin 1949 and had lived at the park since she was two. She was Japan’s oldest elephant and had a long life for captive Asian elephants.
Zoo spokesman Naoya Ohashi said Hanako was discovered lying on her side on Thursday morning and repeated efforts to raise her upright were not successful. She died peacefully in the afternoon.
He said an autopsy would be conducted to determine the cause. Regardless of age, an elephant that remains on its side for a long time can suffer organ damage.
The petition drive had support around the world from people who thought Hanako should be moved to a Thai sanctuary, but the zoo said she was too old to move.
An independent expert who examined her, American Carol Buckley, agreed with the zoo’s assessment.
Staying in a sanctuary with other elephants would bewilder Hanako after living so many years alone, she said in March.
Buckley instead suggested improvements be made where Hanako was kept and for the zookeepers to spend more time with her.
But when the zoo put up new fencing, Hanako was frightened and refused to go outdoors.
Her regular birthday celebration, when the Thai Embassy brought Hanako fresh strawberries every year, was cancelled in March.
Hanako gradually weakened and had been eating less in recent months.
‘I’m filled with sorrow,’ zoo deputy director and general curator Hidemasa Hori said of the animal’s death.
‘Today is that inevitable moment that always comes when one’s job is working with animals in a zoo. Hanako was the symbol of Japan’s peace and growth after World War II. And so an era has come to an end.’
Ulara Nakagawa, a Vancouver resident whose blog inspired the petition drive for Hanako, said it was sad how the elephant had spent her life in an enclosure without dirt or grass and water to splash around in.
‘Most tragic is that she was deprived of true, lasting companionship, which is crucial to an elephant’s overall well-being,’ she wrote in an email.
‘I hope that Hanako’s legacy will be to inspire her fans in Japan and elsewhere to better educate themselves on elephant welfare and work to expose and improve the living conditions of the many other captive zoo elephants who need us,’ she wrote.
‘Rest in peace, Hanako. You will not be forgotten.’ —