News & Politics

Sad Story: Loneliest Elephant in the World Dies at 69

(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

Just awful.

An elephant described as the loneliest in the world by animal rights campaigners has died in Tokyo at the age of 69.

Hanako was a gift from the government of Thailand in 1949 and had lived alone in a small concrete enclosure at Inokashira Park Zoo, in Tokyo, since she was two.

Her plight became a campaign after photographs of her solitary existence circulated among animal-lovers. She is not believed to have seen another elephant since arriving in Japan.

Nearly 470,000 people signed an online petition set up in the name of Elephant Freedom Fighters demanding that Hanako be allowed to leave her “concrete prison” and to see out the rest of her life at a sanctuary in Thailand.

The zoo said a transfer would not be possible because she was too old to endure the journey. Another organisation, the Friends of Asian Elephants, proposed that she at least be allowed to socialise with other animals and have some greenery in her enclosure.

Let’s begin by saying that everything doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition: you can enjoy going to zoos and still think that this is a heart-wrenching story. Sixty-seven years and Japan couldn’t find another elephant or upgrade the poor thing from that lousy concrete slab? Did they misplace they’re wallets or just their sense of decency?

Here’s a link to the San Diego Zoo’s elephant page on its site so you can see a more humane approach to this (there’s a live cam there too).

You don’t have to be an animal rights activist to feel a little outrage at things like this. I readily admit that I often prefer animals to people (animals never want my beer) and am easily moved by stories like this, but I’ve never been compelled to write about one before. The time span here, and the fact that elephants are such emotional and intelligent creatures adds to the tragedy and I’m just grateful that this sad thing isn’t suffering anymore.