Inokashira Park Zoo to work on changing living conditions for Hanako the elephant


Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo said Monday it will work on improving the living conditions for its 69-year-old elephant after an animal welfare expert recommended simple additions such as infrared heaters and new toys instead of moving her to a sanctuary.

“The zoo has done a lot of good,” said Carol Buckley, who 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.

Hanako was among the healthiest elephants, for her age, she has ever seen, Buckley added. Their usual life span is about 70 years.

Inokashira Park Zoo has said moving Hanako would be too stressful. A gift from Thailand in 1949, Hanako has lived in a zoo since she was 2.

Buckley said Hanako is happy and loves her zookeepers. Instead of moving her, Buckley recommends infrared heaters and rubber mats to make her small concrete pen more livable. She suggested playing music and adding more toys, such as frozen fruit inside a tire. Tires and a tube are Hanako’s favorite toys now.

Buckley, an American who founded an animal sanctuary and has worked with other captive elephants, said renovating or enlarging Hanako’s pen would require noisy construction that might stress the animal. And introducing other elephants and even foliage could bewilder her.

Zoo curator Hidemasa Hori, who met with Buckley during her visit, said the zoo will work on making the “environmental enrichment” changes, although some bureaucratic procedures would be required. The city of Tokyo runs the zoo.

Ulara Nakagawa, whose blog inspired the campaign, says funds can be raised to help make changes for Hanako.

It was unclear whether those who were behind the petition drive to move Hanako out of the zoo would be convinced by Buckley’s findings.

Buckley noted that animal activists need to be educated, regardless of their good intentions.

“You think she should be put on a plane or a boat and go to Thailand? What are you thinking?” she said.

Buckley noted that Hanako was clearly bored and needs more toys as well as more time with the zookeepers.

“When her keepers let her in the barn, she just lit up. Her eyes got big, and her body relaxed, and she came in and her ears were flapping,” she said. “She came right over to the bars where they were and solicited their petting the entire time and didn’t stop talking.”

Hori said the zoo is open to Buckley’s ideas. He was happy the meeting had not been confrontational and was hopeful some of the easier changes might be in the works as early as Hanako’s birthday party later this month.

“They agreed Hanako should not be moved,” he said in a telephone interview, acknowledging that perhaps the zookeepers had too readily assumed Hanako did not want change. “This is just a beginning.”

  • GBR48

    Some of the other enclosures in the zoo could also be a lot bigger, especially those with larger winged birds. Never pleasant to see birds caged in an environment too small for them to fly in.

    Japan’s zoos are generally a bit 1970s by Western standards. It’s not that the staff don’t care, but that Japan is so insular, and administrative structures are so rigid that changes taking place elsewhere may be missed and it is rare for someone to be both in a position to notice them and empowered to implement changes.

    It says ‘the city of Tokyo’ runs the zoo. You can imagine how many fences staff have to climb to get anything changed.

    Ueno zoo has the same issues. Their elephants looked pretty wretched last time I saw them, surrounded by concrete.

    Maybe some of the animals at Inokashira could be moved to larger premises elsewhere (not Hanako, for the sensible reasons given). They might ask Nara for some visitor friendly deer, some of which may otherwise be culled, as replacements, if they can accommodate them. Free-ranging is better than caged.

    And please, if you work in or administrate zoos in Japan, go to Europe and the US, see how they operate there and talk to your counterparts abroad.