Elephant Miyako living alone for 49 years in Japan (INTERVIEW)

Elephant Miyako stands at the edge of her enclosure
Miyako in her small enclosure at Utsunomiya Zoo, Japan, credit: Elephants in Japan

The female elephant Miyako has been living alone at the Utsunomiya Zoo in Japan for 49 years. She was taken from Thailand when she was just six months old. 

Her case is urgent, Ulara Nakagawa, the founder of Elephants in Japan, told The Animal Reader: “She is 49 years old, and she has been alone her entire life since she was a six-month baby brought from Thailand. Never had a companion, ever.”

She’s kept in a small outdoor and even smaller indoor area with barren concrete walls, floor, and little entertainment. “Her enclosure is tiny, incredibly tiny. It is barren. She has a tiny tire. She has a bar that she chews on. She does this out of a stress coping mechanism.”

Recent footage taken of Miyako -and reviewed by elephant experts- showed that she’s in pain. “Miyako’s nails and cuticles on all four of her feet are very overgrown. This means that she is experiencing pain and discomfort on a minute-by-minute basis,” Nakagawa said.

She added that even though the footage was taken in July, which is summer in Japan, Miyako “was shivering in some of the videos.”


Nakagawa also stressed how dangerous the ditch around her is: “The moat that surrounds her tiny bare enclosure is an extreme hazard for her. And the way the zoo operates is, they allow the public to come and feed her over this moat.”

“And so she’ll get on the very edge of the moat and lean over to try to grab pieces of food from these visitors. And every single time she does that, she is at risk of falling into that moat. And we have learned from our research that she has previously fallen in once,” Nakagawa said.

Elephants in Japan has been trying to get the zoo, which is privately owned, to cooperate and find a solution for Miyako’s suffering. 

“The most fruitful thing for her would be for the owner to let her go and move to a better zoo,” Nakagawa said. “There are zoos in Japan that have far more space and in which she could, with the right guidance and expertise, be introduced to other elephants and have finally that companionship that would make her, I believe, thrive.”

Twelve elephants live solitary at zoos in Japan. Elephants in Japan’s mission is to better the environment of these elephants. 

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