Hanako the elephant died Thursday afternoon at the Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo at the age of 69 years. She was the oldest Asian elephant in Japan.
According to Tokyo officials, the aging elephant was found lying on the floor of her cage at around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, and zoo workers tried to get her on her feet to prevent her from dying of suffocation. However, they were unsuccessful in saving Hanako, and she was pronounced dead at 3 p.m.
While the cause of her death was not immediately known, Kiyoshi Naga, the head of the zoo, said Hanako the elephant died peacefully and without suffering. Reportedly, an autopsy has been scheduled for Friday to attempt to find the cause of death.
“I wanted her to live a little longer. I really want to thank all the people who have loved Hanako all these years,” Nagai said.
However, while Hanako’s passing is sad, she apparently outlived the normal life expectations for Asian elephants. Reportedly, the pachyderms can live up to the age of 60 in the wild but live much shorter lives when confined in zoos.
According to a report by the Japan Times, Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe said in a statement that Hanako the elephant had arrived in Japan shortly after the war and that the beloved elephant “gave dreams and hopes to children.” He said her death is “really regrettable, but I pray (for her) from the bottom of my heart.”
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Hanako, which means “flower child,” was gifted to Japan by Thailand as a symbol of friendship back in 1949. After living in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo for a few years, she was moved to the Inokashira Zoo in 1954.
— Dr Andrew Jones (@dogandcatdoc) February 5, 2016
It was planned back on March 21 to hold a 69th birthday party for Hanako, but the event had to be canceled due to poor health.
While Hanako the elephant has entertained visitors to the zoo in Tokyo for decades, she has gained international attention in her last few months.
Reportedly, Canadian blogger Ulara Nakagawa was shocked to learn that the elephant’s long memory would be filled with memories of staying alone in a concrete enclosure at “one of the cruelest, most archaic zoos in the modern world.”
Nakagawa wrote in her blog, “Hanako is completely alone in a tiny cement enclosure with nothing to comfort her or provide stimulation. She just stands there, appearing almost lifeless, since there is nothing else for her to do.”
Reportedly, the elephant was alone because there had been several incidents with elephants in the zoo and she was considered a “killer elephant.”
Nakagawa posted an online petition, which gained over 469,000 signatures, recommending that Hanako be moved to an elephant sanctuary back in Thailand.
However, when Nakagawa met with an animal expert at the zoo, officials there said it was “too late” to move Hanako and that at her advanced age she would likely be averse to moving.
— timhornyak (@robotopia) February 16, 2016
As reported by the New York Daily News, Hidemasa Hori at the zoo also explained that the Japanese view of zoos is different to that of their Western counterparts, who keep zoo animals in faux natural environments.
Hori did, however, say in March that he would work on changing Hanako the elephant’s environment to give her more comfort. However, it is unclear whether any such changes were made prior to her death.
Hanako can be seen moving around in her bare concrete environment in a video included below.