61 years alone (and counting) in a concrete prison

Ulara Nakagawa
Dec 6, 2015 · 3 min read

This is an infographic timeline I put together charting the current progress on the road to saving Hanako, a 68-year-old captive Asian elephant living in shameful conditions at Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo. (For a bigger, interactive version go to THIS LINK.)

I originally wrote about Hanako’s tragic story, in this post: “Hanako the Elephant: 61 Years (and Counting) Alone in a Concrete Prison

So what next?

BEST SOLUTION: Transport Hanako by boat to Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. I just found out today that the sanctuary has agreed to accept Hanako—and has not expressed major concerns about her being too old to travel by boat to Thailand! The challenge: Inokashira Park Zoo must agree to release Hanako. There is some effort currently underway to begin negotiating. Meanwhile…

  • The situation is urgent for Hanako: She reportedly only has one more molar left and some people have told me it’s possible she could slowly die of starvation, in cruel captivity, if she loses her last tooth.
  • We need more Japanese spokespeople behind the cause: Japanese institutions are notoriously weary of foreign activists, so finding people to put pressure on from the inside, will be the best strategy to make any real progress. We need more Japanese people who are willing to speak out, make calls, turn on the pressure for the zoo to release Hanako as quickly as possible.
  • It would be awesome to enlist the help of a famous spokesperson: It turns out Hanako actually had one true friend in the world: a zookeeper named Kiyozo Yamakawa who truly loved her. Sadly, he passed away in 1995. But in 2006, Kiyozo’s son, Koji Yamakawa, wrote a book about his father’s heartwarming relationship with Hanako, called “Hanako, the Elephant My Father Loved.” It was a big hit in Japan. The Japanese government and institutions are weary of non-Japanese activists. But if we can reach Koji, he might be able to speak up and help us free Hanako.

If you know someone who can help, find me on Facebook and feel free to reach out or add me as a friend, at this LINK.

If the zoo does not agree to let Hanako go overseas, another possible solution is to find a more humane Japanese zoo that would accept Hanako. (Japan has no animal sanctuaries.) The challenge here is that so far, no such zoo seems to exist. I’ve been asking people but no one has been able to tell me there is one and it in fact seems all of the known zoos in Japan are not ideal for animals. Even if such a zoo were to be found, Inokashira Park Zoo would still need to agree to release Hanako.

Conclusion: I am feeling some hope for Hanako now, but feel there are some major challenges still to overcome. The first is to convince Inokashira Park Zoo to release her to better conditions to live out the rest of her life.

The good news is that there are many amazing Hanako advocates who are now fighting for her release. And just look at the stark contrast between the sanctuaary in Thailand that has agreeed to take her, vs. her cold, concrete dungeon now:

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand, which has agreed to take Hanako.


Hanako in her barren, concrete enclosure last month.
Hanako’s inside cell.

Ulara Nakagawa

Written by

Founder @ www.elephantsinjapan.com Ex-editor @diplomat_apac+ comms @hootsuite. Works to inform, inspire and ignite others to better the lives of animals.

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