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Story of Hanako, Japan’s beloved elephant

The oldest elephant in Japan, Hanako, dubbed the world’s “loneliest elephant” by animal welfare activists suddenly came to international attention.

The blog post written last year October, along with a photo of a sad-looking Hanako totally alone in a small, barren, cement enclosure, went viral as more than 450,000 people signed the “Help Hanako” international campaign for moving Hanako to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand or a new, more commodious enclosure where she can interact with other elephants.

Hanako had lived in a zoo since she was 2 without a companion and her current 69 years was the about the lifespan of captive Asian elephants. In March this year, Carol Buckley, an animal welfare expert, was invited to the zoo by the “Help Hanako” campaign that sought to improve the elephant’s situation or move it to a Thai sanctuary.

“After visiting with Hanako and seeing her for myself, I realized that moving her now at this stage in her life, is not an option,” Buckley said. The news that Hanako would not be moved to a sanctuary resulted in an outpouring of emotional responses from her supporters worldwide. Some could not accept the fact that such a move would traumatize this geriatric elephant, causing her more harm than good. She recommended some environmental enrichment changes to be made. But It was too late for Hanako. Unfortunately, she died before they could make the changes.

Carol Buckley wrote: Against all odds, Hanako lived to the ripe old age of 69. Even though her body served her well, captivity took its toll on her heart and mind. It’s unfortunate her deprived existence didn’t come to light five years ago, ten years ago or even two decades ago, when she could have benefited from being moved. But, although Hanako did not benefit personally from her celebrity, other elephants will. (Floro Mercene)