This morning I read the story of Hanako. Hanako was the elephant that recently died at the age of 69 years, in the Inokashira Park Zoo in Tokyo. Often referred to as the world’s loneliest elephant, she was ripped from the Thai jungle at two years of age and lived in concrete isolation.
For 67 years.
Her cage had no grass and no trees.
I can’t even imagine what life was like for her. It’s far too painful to consider.
Prior to her death, a campaign had been instigated by a visitor to the zoo, who upon seeing the dreadful conditions in which Hanako was living, petitioned for her to be released and sent to spend her remaining days in a sanctuary, in the company of other rescued elephants. Free to walk, roam and socialise in green pastures.
Zookeepers declined the suggestion, as they felt it would be too distressing for her to be relocated at her advanced age, given she had lived in complete and total isolation for 67 years. Elephants are social animals with complex family structures, deep emotions and long memories. Hanako had been deprived of all of her natural social, maternal and familial instincts for her entire life. To what end?
I noticed a video was attached to the piece and I began to watch. I saw a magnificent, graceful creature reduced to living her life as a spectacle for paying curious tourists. She was looking, tragically out of the enclosure, which provided her with zero privacy, to the people looking back at her. She appeared to display the classic symptoms of distress and there were reports she had become aggressive in recent years. Surely she had had enough. I was reminded of Tyke, another elephant who reached her breaking point when on a circus tour in Hawaii, which ended in tragic circumstances.
As the video went on, the person holding the camera zoomed in closer and eventually close enough so that I could look deep into Hanako’s eyes. She looked at me and I looked at her. I could see right into her soul.
My heart broke.
She was depressed, sad, lonely and desperate. She wanted to live, but felt as if she was dying minute by minute. As I lost myself in her eyes, it seemed as if she looked directly at me, through me even, right into my heart. Surely there had to be something better to come than this? Surely my suffering must end soon? She was lonely and desperate to be free. Even if for just a short time. If only she could feel grass under her feet, to lean her tired body against a tree, sheltering under its cooling shade. If only she could be in the company of others, just like her. If only.
I saw myself mirrored in her eyes.
Hanako was an intelligent sentient being, used as entertainment under the thinly veiled guise of education. Dragged from her home to be imprisoned in a concrete box, deprived of everything that was natural and important to her.
For 67 years.
Until she was gone.
I’m sorry Hanako that you never got to be with other elephants, know your family, have babies of your own, and roam free and happy in your green jungle home.
You deserved better, so much better.
I’m sorry Hanako.
I’m sorry that humans can’t see that we are all one and the same. I’m sorry that humans don’t yet realise we’re all made of the same cosmic star dust. I’m sorry we don’t remember that all beings deserve the same rights to freedom, family and friends.
I hope we learn our lessons and one day we’ll look back on what we’ve done and it’s all a part of a never to be repeated history.
I live in hope that one day, just maybe, we will remember that we are all one.
May you be leaning against a big, tall cool tree with grass under your feet forever more.
May all beings everywhere be happy and free.