Hanako, Japan's oldest Asian elephant, will be treated as more of a threat after a series of deaths and injuries to her keepers spanning six decades.
Hanako, the star attraction at Inokashira Park Zoo in Musashino, Tokyo, arrived in Japan from Thailand in 1949. As the first elephant to be sent to Japan following the war, her arrival created a major stir.
She is thought to be 64 years old.
Throughout her captivity, the nearly 3,000-kilogram pachyderm has been fed and groomed by keepers under a "free contact" regime allowing them to enter her enclosure. However, she has developed a macabre track record over the years.
In 1956, a man who got into her enclosure after getting drunk was found dead.
Four years later, she killed a zookeeper by stomping on him. She was chained for a while after that.
In the past five years, she used her trunk to flip a keeper, who only evaded death by rolling behind the bars in her enclosure; hurled a veterinarian across her enclosure; and, on another occasion, started chasing a staff member. The keeper escaped after a colleague shouted a warning.
Mikio Murofushi, who leads the four-member team caring for Hanako, said the incidents were not accidental.
"A pure accident is impossible in the case of an elephant," Murofushi said. "An elephant is extremely intelligent and acts cognitively."
The zoo now says it will care for Hanako from behind bars under a "protected contact" regime, which is between "free contact" and "non contact. Non contact is used with predators like lions and tigers. Her enclosure will be redesigned to prevent her from swiping zookeepers with her trunk.
"We will switch to protected contact out of concern for zookeepers' safety," said Etsuo Narushima, head of the zoo. "It will also help Hanako if we can prevent a future incident."
It used to be the norm in Japanese zoos for keepers to feed and tend elephants in their enclosures, but there has been a trend in recent years toward more restrictive policies. Keepers at the Tama Zoological Park in Hino have taken care of Asian elephants from behind bars for 14 years.
At the Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo's Taito Ward, a zookeeper was killed in December 2005 by a blow to the head from an Asian elephant's tusk.
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