“Elephants in Japan: In Memory of Hanako” is a global initiative focused on improving the welfare of approximately 14 solitary captive elephants currently living substandard conditions in Japanese zoos. Through our efforts, we also seek to raise awareness for the global plight of all captive elephants deprived of the companionship and enrichment they require.
Elephants in Japan was launched on World Elephant Day, August 12, 2017, following the 2016 death of Hanako, a 69-year-old solitary elephant at a Tokyo zoo. Just prior to her death, she had come to the world’s attention after Elephants in Japan Founder Ulara Nakagawa had started a global campaign to help her. Dubbed “the loneliest elephant in the world” by the media—Hanako was forced to live out her life, totally alone, in a tiny, barren concrete prison at her zoo. (Read more about Hanako’s story, HERE.)
Elephants in Japan: In Memory of Hanako is an initiative that was launched in Hanako’s honor. While it was too late to save her, it is not too late for the other “Hanakos” in Japan.
Elephants in Japan works in partnership with the nearly 40-year-old international wildlife protection organization Zoocheck. Together we are pushing for an end to the keeping of solitary elephants and to work toward broader reforms in Japanese elephant keeping.
In 2016, if not for the petition signed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, no one would have even found out about the plight of Hanako the elephant. She would have quietly passed away from natural causes only months later, and her zoo would not have been actively making some efforts to better her life. Not only do online petitions help you add your voice to a cause and stay connected to it, they critically help raise awareness for issues that matter. The media often picks up on popular petitions and the coverage helps shed light on an issue. Also, when an individual signs and shares a petition on channels like social media, it helps spread word and raise more awareness and momentum.
Our process: Each of the 14 solitary elephants covered in our campaign is a unique individual, with her own name, personality and story. So instead of lumping them together, we are creating one unique petition for each elephant. Then, we are spending a few months promoting it, to give the time and attention to each elephant as she deserves. You can find links to our launched and active petitions on our website under the “Take Action” page or just click the below links to sign and share them:
Miyako’s petition (set up by a Japanese animal advocate)
Once a petition is sent out to the targets, we will send you an update (via the Care2 petition platform) and tell you ways you can further help (such as contacting the relevant authorities directly to add pressure.)
Share their stories
Social media is very effective way to help us raise awareness and momentum. You can follow our latest updates and related news on:
and share our posts and petitions with your friends, families and other animal welfare groups you might be involved with.
Your donation is used to carry out high-impact, strategic initiatives to help solitary elephants in Japan, such as education programs and training workshops for industry members and policy-makers, efforts to push for the relocation of elephants to better conditions, and regulatory and legislative reforms.
Elephants in Japan works in partnership with the nearly 40-year-old international wildlife protection organization Zoocheck in an effort to improve the lives of solitary captive elephants in Japan.
We wish we had the authority to release these elephants, but they are owned by the zoos or the respective cities. Sadly, at this time, there is NO legitimate elephant sanctuary in Japan.
Relocating an elephant overseas to a sanctuary takes years and a significant amount of money. There are many steps to the process that must be carried out, which include—but are not limited to—first negotiating with the owner to allow the release of the elephant, conducting careful health examinations by a team of experts, often coming in from other countries, and then the actual transportation logistics. Costs of relocating a single elephant overseas costs hundreds of thousands of dollars—sometimes upwards of millions. The same process takes place after an elephant is relocated. Furthermore, it takes high expertise and a lot of careful time and testing to acclimate an elephant (especially one that has lived alone) to an entirely new setting and to introduce them to other elephants, which they could or could not take to.
In the future, a Japan-based legitimate elephant sanctuary would be ideal. (Sadly, there are many, many so-called elephant sanctuaries existing and emerging in Asia now that are actually masked tourist attractions that profit the owners and do not take true elephant welfare into regard.)
Finally, we know elephants are highly intelligent and often sensitive animals. They often have highly unique preferences and needs that differ and can be complex. As more people learn about animal sanctuaries, they are getting a lot of positive attention these days. But the reality is that they are simply a band-aid solution for the more serious and larger issue, which is an elephant once made captive—in no matter what setting—will never be able to live a healthy, full life as it should in its natural habitat.
As elephants are inherently wild animals—that have never been domesticated such a livestock or companion animals—ultimately we believe they should never be taken from the wild in the first place, and placed in zoos and elsewhere.
The good news is that we are making a difference. No one would have known these elephants exist if it were not for the Hanako campaign, and now Elephants in Japan. Already, nearly one and a half million people have signed petitions for Miyako, Sunny, Fuko and Himeko.
The Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) made an important public announcement in December 2017 that acknowledges our efforts so far, regarding the husbandry of solitary elephants in Japanese zoos. This is encouraging news that key entities within Japan are receptive and ripe for change and gives hope for the elephants in Japan.
Dr. Keith Lindsay’s report has outlined a set of detailed recommendations for the short, medium and long term that can and should be enacted for the solitary elephants. These include relocating the elephants within Japan to better living conditions with larger spaces and companionship.
Each elephant’s preferences and character are unique and in many cases, and the elephant experts we have worked with have noted in their observations of the solitary elephants that many are in fact disturbed by the visitors at the zoo—especially the noises made by them. Elephants in the wild would thrive in wide natural roaming spaces and choose the company of their elephant herd and family members—not humans. For this reason you will find that reputable elephant sanctuaries—such as the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) ARK 2000 sanctuary in California—are closed to the public and make every bit of effort to offer their rescued elephants the peace and privacy they can so they are able to lead happy and healthy lives.
In the same way, it is highly likely that another type of animal, such as a dog, cat or even goat would stress an elephant out, especially in the cramped quarters these elephants live in.
With Hanako the elephant, we discovered that having been deprived of elephant companionship for over 60 years, she had grown to love her keepers and enjoyed spending time with them.
Therefore, at the time we recommended that the zoo increase the amount of quality time Hanako was able to spend with them, add behavioral enrichment to her enclosure—for when they’re not around—and further educate themselves on understanding elephant welfare and behavior.
We will take measures to push for these types of changes for the other solitary elephants in Japan, keeping in mind each one’s unique personality, needs and character and understanding always that being with other elephants is still the most natural and fitting environment for them.