Elephant Miyako’s 50-Years of solitude sparks urgent call for change in Japan

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

Miyako, a female elephant, has been living in solitude at the Utsunomiya Zoo in Japan for 50 years. Captured from Thailand as a young calf, she has never experienced companionship with other elephants.

Her living conditions are concerning, as she resides in a small concrete enclosure with minimal stimuli, which activists believe contributes to her stress and discomfort.

Recent observations indicate Miyako is in physical distress, particularly with overgrown nails and cuticles causing her pain. The ditch surrounding her enclosure poses a significant risk, especially when she attempts to retrieve food from zoo visitors, exacerbating the danger of an accident.

Elephants in Japan, an advocacy group, is urging the zoo to improve Miyako’s situation. They suggest relocating her to a facility with more space and the opportunity to socialize with other elephants, which could enhance her well-being.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia said it had contacted the owner of Utsunomiya Zoo, offering to help transfer Miyako to a sanctuary or facility where she would have space to roam and other elephants to socialize with for the first time in 50 years. But the owner refused, PETA said.

Elephants in captivity

Elephants, known for their intelligence and social nature, require companionship to ensure their emotional and mental well-being.

In the wild, they form complex social networks, primarily led by mothers, fostering deep familial and communal bonds crucial for survival. These relationships offer them necessary mental stimulation and emotional support, which are essential to their overall health.

Without such interactions, particularly in captivity, elephants can exhibit signs of distress and behavioral issues, underscoring the importance of companionship in maintaining their physical and psychological health.

The Animal Reader talked to Ulara Nakagawa, the founder of Elephants in Japan, about elephant Miyako

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