Three days have passed since I was in Japan to meet Hanako and assess her welfare.
Hanako has lived at the Inokashira Park Zoo for the majority of her 69 years. Her small concrete exhibit, antiquated dry moat and solitary existence are a far cry from what nature intended for this wild-born, highly evolved, social being.
In a better world Hanako would have lived her entire life with her extended family of mother, sisters, nieces, aunts and grandmother. Knowing that Hanako has been denied her natural life has led many people to believe that she must be miserable.
The common consensus was that moving Hanako to a sanctuary is the only way to improve her life. Under different circumstances that might be true.
But 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. I prepared a report for the zoo with many recommendations for how staff can improve her life. Moving Hanako to a sanctuary was not one of them.
The news that Hanako will not be moved to a sanctuary resulted in an outpouring of emotional responses from her supporters worldwide. Many were angry. Some could not accept the fact that such a move would traumatize this geriatric elephant, causing her more harm than good. The universal reaction shared by all was mourning Hanako’s lost opportunity for freedom.
No one is more heartbroken than I that Hanako will never experience her birthright, living in a natural environment with trees, grass and other elephants. It would have been a dream come true, if not for Hanako’s advanced age, lack of teeth, failing eyesight, frailness, change in sleeping habits (she no longer lies down to sleep) and inability to cope with change. Hanako’s reality is that she is a senior citizen in hospice care.
I am convinced that zoo staff are sincere in their intention to better Hanako’s situation. Ulara, who is spearheading this effort for Hanako, will work diligently with them to implement the changes I recommended.
Even though Hanako will not be moved from the zoo, the deficiencies she has lived with for decades will be addressed. The outdated moat can be filled in or fenced off to keep her from falling in. Rubber flooring is a quick and viable solution to hard, cold concrete surfaces. Additional behavioral enrichment objects will help stimulate and keep Hanako active. Strategically placed infrared heaters and automatic waterers will increase her comfort. And Hanako’s keepers, whom she is so very fond of, will be encouraged to spend more time interacting with her to satisfy her social needs. This arrangement is not perfect, but Hanako will benefit from the improvements.
My goal for Hanako is to enrich her life while respecting her limitations. She is a grande old dame who has given her life to the people of Japan. In her final days, every effort should be made to bring her comfort and ensure that she feels loved, on her terms.
Hanako’s Report submitted to the zoo