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Japan's Oldest Elephant Has Died After A Lifetime Of Captivity

Hanako spent 67 of her 69 years alone in captivity at a Tokyo zoo.

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Hanako, an Asian elephant, arrived at the Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo in 1949 when she was just 2 years old as a gift from Thailand's government. For 67 years she lived alone in captivity in a sparse concrete enclosure.

"Totally alone in a small, barren, cement enclosure with absolutely no comfort or stimulation provided, she just stood there almost lifeless  —  like a figurine," Canadian Ulara Nakagawa wrote on the viral Medium post. "There was absolutely nothing else for her to do. It was beyond painful to take in."

However, an independent expert and zoo officials determined such a move would have bewildered the elderly animal, who knew only life in captivity.

On its website, the zoo announced workers found the elephant lying on her side on Thursday.

An autopsy found she died from respiratory failure linked to ongoing pulmonary congestion problems.

The elephant's body was donated to Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science for research purposes, zoo staff said.

"My reaction is a mixture of shock, sadness, anger and relief  —  relief that she no longer has to suffer," Nakagawa wrote on Medium.

"I wish there was more we could have done for Hanako, much much sooner."

David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.

Contact David Mack at

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