'Loneliest elephant in the world' dies after spending 67 years in 'concrete prison'
An elephant described as the loneliest in the world by animal rights campaigners has died in Tokyo at the age of 69.
Hanako was a gift from the government of Thailand in 1949 and had lived alone in a small concrete enclosure at Inokashira Park Zoo, in Tokyo, since she was two.
Her plight became a campaign after photographs of her solitary existence circulated among animal-lovers. She is not believed to have seen another elephant since arriving in Japan.
Nearly 470,000 people signed an online petition set up in the name of Elephant Freedom Fighters demanding that Hanako be allowed to leave her "concrete prison" and to see out the rest of her life at a sanctuary in Thailand.
The zoo said a transfer would not be possible because she was too old to endure the journey. Another organisation, the Friends of Asian Elephants, proposed that she at least be allowed to socialise with other animals and have some greenery in her enclosure.
Officials of the zoo confirmed that Hanako was found lying on the floor on Thursday morning. Later in the day, she stopped responding to her keepers and died a short while after 3 pm, Kyodo News reported.
"She passed away quietly and calmly", said Kiyoshi Nagai, head of the zoo. "It is truly regrettable. She was the most loved elephant in Japan. I am grateful to all the people who loved her".
Hanako was the subject of a number of children's books and a television series, making her a popular attraction at the zoo.
In a statement, the embassy of Thailand said the elephant's death had "saddened the people of Thailand and the people of Japan very much.
"She had been considered Thailand's goodwill ambassador to Japan", it added.