Hanako, the oldest elephant in Japan, died Thursday afternoon at Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo, the metropolitan government said. The beloved female was 69 years old.
According to the metropolitan government, Hanako was found lying on the floor of her cage at around 8:30 a.m. Zoo workers attempted to get her on her feet because if an elephant’s body is compressed in a way that causes the chest or diaphragm to be squeezed too much, it will die of suffocation.
Hanako was pronounced dead at around 3 p.m., the metropolitan government said.
The cause of death was not immediately known and an autopsy was scheduled for Friday.
Kiyoshi Nagai, head of the zoo, said Hanako died peacefully and without suffering.
“I wanted her to live a little longer. I really want to thank all the people who have loved Hanako all these years,” Nagai said.
“Hanako arrived in Japan shortly after the war and gave dreams and hopes to children,” Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said in a statement. “Her death is really regrettable, but I pray (for her) from the bottom of my heart.
Hanako came to Japan as a gift from Thailand as a symbol of friendship in 1949. After living in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo for a few years, she was moved to the Inokashira zoo in 1954.
Her 69th birthday party was supposed to be held March 21 but was canceled due to poor health.
Last year, an English-language blog about Hanako sparked an Internet petition that collected 300,000 signatures as of January urging that she be moved to a sanctuary in Thailand where she could interact with other elephants.