Calls grow to move Hanako from Tokyo zoo
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Calls grow to move Hanako from Tokyo zoo

Has lived alone at Tokyo zoo for 61 years

Thai elephant lovers and animal welfare activists are calling on Japanese authorities to relocate Hanako, a 68-year-old female Thai elephant living alone at a zoo in Tokyo, to another zoo where she will be in the company of other elephants.

Japanese sightseers at Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo look at Hanako, a 68-year-old female elephant sent from Thailand in 1949. Thai netizens and elephant lovers are calling for Hanako to be relocated to a better home where she will not be alone. Photo courtesy of the Thai embassy, Japan

Friends of the Asean Elephant made the call, joining similar concerns expressed by Japanese people, after learning that Hanako, which was sent to Japan in 1949 to help strengthen diplomatic relations, has lived alone for the past 61 years in a concrete enclosure devoid of trees or earth.

Kyodo news agency said Hanako arrived in Kobe in 1949 when she was only two years old, the first elephant to come to Japan after World War II.

It received an enthusiastic welcome from the public and was placed in Tokyo's Ueno Zoo. In 1954 Hanako was relocated to Inokashira Park Zoo in the western part of Tokyo and has lived there since.

Preecha Phaungkum, elephant hospital director at Friends of the Asean Elephant, said the elephant should spend the last part of its life in the company of other elephants and in better conditions.

The story of Hanako caught on in Thailand after pictures appeared on social media in which the elephant appears weak. Hanako is depressed and lonely, reports said, as it is the only elephant at Inokashira zoo.

"I had the opportunity to meet Hanako and my tears fell when I saw her. It is not that the zoo takes care of her poorly. In fact she lives in a clean place with good food. They feed her peeled Cavendish banana which is very expensive in Japan, but I could feel her loneliness," the message on the "Apple Rinraphat" Facebook account read.

Many Thai netizens also expressed the view that Hanako should be taken out of Japan and brought back to Thailand.

But Soraida Salwala, secretary-general of the Friends of the Asean Elephant, said this would be difficult and may not be the right call.

"We disagreed with the idea. Transporting her back may cause her death and she needs more time to adjust herself to a new environment. It would be better if Japanese authorities find friends for her," she said. She said that the zoo should also adjust the environment by making it more natural as Hanako lives on a concrete surface and inside walls with limited space.

However, Ms Soraida said the Japanese zoo has provided special food for the elephant to help combat its weak digestive system and there are many Japanese volunteers to help take care of Hanako.

Mr Preecha said the foundation will submit a letter to the Japanese embassy in Thailand calling on the Japanese government to relocate Hanako so that she is in the company of other elephants.

"Elephants need to live in groups, similar to human beings. I met her four years ago and felt upset with her loneliness. She needs friends and I hope she would be able to stay in a group during the last part of her life," he said.

An international campaign to help Hanako has started at titled "Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo: Hanako lives for 61 years alone in a concrete prison! Give her a real life or send her to a sanctuary."

"At 68 years old, Hanako is the oldest elephant in Japan. She's spent the past six decades at Tokyo's Inokashira Park Zoo, where she lives alone in a barren enclosure. There's no grass or trees -- only concrete floors and walls. It's unclear when she last saw another elephant," the campaign said.

More than 206,000 people have signed the online petition to support the campaign.

Hanako was delivered to Japan by Capt Somwang Sarasa six decades ago. 

Chinavais Sarasas, the son of Capt Somwang, told Thairath Online that his father knew many Japanese children were orphaned after World War II so, to cheer them up, he took Hanako to Japan by ship at his own expense. At the time, Japan had no elephants and children were excited to see Hanako.

Mr Chinavais said he had contacted the Inokashira zoo after he found out about Hanako on social media.

The zoo said Hanako is under good care and happy as Japanese people love the elephant very much.

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