Elephant Held In Captivity And Completely Alone For 29 Years In Japan


Sunny, an elephant in Asia, has been held prisoner in a concrete cell for 29 years in Japan. Isolated from her friends and locked up all alone for most of her life, she is showing serious signs of boredom and depression. Charities everywhere are fighting for her freedom.


sunny éléphante isoléeSunny in her enclosure – Source: Elephants in Japan


Sunny arrived at the Ishikawa zoo 29 years ago and has stayed there ever since. Put in a concrete cell behind steel bars, the elephant spends most of her time rubbing her trunk along the walls of her enclosure out of boredom.


For nearly 30 years she has stayed there and her sadness quite literally marks the walls with years of scratch marks riddling each of the barren walls from her attempts to escape.


sunny éléphante isoléeSunny in her enclosure – Source: Elephants in Japan


The only contact she has had since arriving is with the zoo workers when they bring her food and water. When the clean her enclosure, they make sure to keep their distance, never touching her. They even use a bullhook, a sharp metal tool commonly used to train elephants, to avoid her.


Sunny does have an outdoor enclosure, but sadly she does not always have access to it.


Ulara Nakagawa, found of Elephants in Japan, a charity that fights for elephant welfare, said to The Dodo:


She stands on concrete for prolonged periods, which is bad for her feet. There may be some attempts to compensate for her isolation by interactions with zoo visitors in the outdoor area, however, in the rather noisy indoor environment, she appears to be disturbed by visitors.


Elephants in Japan was created in honour of an elephant, who like Sunny, was locked up alone for 68 years before dying in a zoo in 2016.


sunny éléphante isoléeHimeka, another elephant spent 23 years alone in her cell – Source: Elephants in Japan


The charity partnered with ZooCheck, an animal protection service, in the hopes of helping abused elephants in the country. According to the two organisations, dozens of zoos across Japan were keeping elephants in the same solitary confinements.


Sunny is one of the loneliest elephants of them all, outranked only by Miyako, an elephant who was taken from her family in Thailand at six months old to live at the Utsunomiya Zoo in Japan. She’s now been alone for 44 years.


sunny éléphante isoléeMiyako, the elephant who spent 44 years alone – Source: Flickr/Yu Morita


According to Ulara Nakagawa, solitude has a devastating effect on elephants, who are usually very sociable and close to members of their family.


Sunny exhibits stereotypic swaying, often seen in captive wild animals kept in substandard enclosures. They are often associated with boredom, anxiety, frustration and depression. [This] means that Sunny's biological, behavioral and social needs are not being met.


Elephants in Japan have launched a petition to save each solitary elephant in the country, and animal advocates demand that they be released.


sunny éléphante isoléeHanako, the elephant who spent 66 years alone before dying in 2016 – Source: Flickr/Yu Morita


The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums announced that it would work towards improving the elephant's living conditions, but no details about this have yet been divulged.


[…] We believe that elephants should be cared for and housed in a meaningful group context. They are highly social animals and their communicational and physical interactions among individuals are essential to welfare.


Nakagawa hopes that this announcement, in combination with greater pressure from the general public and more animal welfare training programs for zoo industry workers, will spark the much-needed change to help Sunny and the other horribly lonesome elephants.


Elephants all around the world are mistreated for the sake of the tourism industry. While some live a life of solitude and sadness, like Lasah in Malaysia, others are subjected to abuse just for entertainment.