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Philippines: World's 'saddest elephant' Mali dies in Manila Zoo after decades of loneliness

Mali came to the Philippines as a gift from the Sri Lankan government in 1981, when she was 11 months old. After the passing of another elephant Shiva in 1990, Mali remains the sole elephant in the Manila Zoo, becoming a star attraction for children and adults.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Manila Published on: November 29, 2023 17:40 IST
Mali, known as one of the world's saddest elephants
Image Source : X Mali, known as one of the world's saddest elephants residing in the Philippines.

Mali, known by activists as one of the world's 'saddest' elephants living in the Philippines, has died at Manila Zoo after spending years in solitude there. Mali, whose full name is Vishwa Ma'ali, was the main attraction at the zoo for more than four decades and her passing triggered an outpouring of tribute by many people, according to BBC.

Mali's death was announced on Tuesday by Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna in a Facebook video, where she said that visiting the zoo to see the elephant was among her happiest childhood memories. The elephant was seen constantly rubbing her trunk against a wall on Friday, indicating that she was in pain, according to Manila Zoo's chief veterinarian Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo.

By Tuesday, she was found lying on her side and breathing heavily. Veterinarians administered antihistamines and vitamins but were unable to save her, as Mali died that afternoon. An autopsy showed that she had cancer in some organs and a blockage in her aorta. 

Concerns over Mali's solitude

Mali was gifted by Sri Lanka to former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos in 1981 when she was 11 months old. She was accompanied by another elephant Shiva, who had arrived in 1977 and died in 1990. Since then, Mali has been the sole elephant at Manila Zoo, entertaining children getting vaccinated at a site there during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mali's isolation and the hospital's derelict conditions were raised by several animal rights activists, who said that the zoo was ill-equipped to provide the elephant with adequate medical care. Renowned singer Sir Paul McCartney in 2012 asked to send Mali to another sanctuary where she will be surrounded by other elephants, describing her situation as 'heartbreaking'.

"I am writing to add my voice to the many others who are supporting the transfer of Mali, the lonely elephant currently being held at the Manila Zoo, to a sanctuary in Thailand as soon as possible," he said.

However, zookeepers argued that the elephant was best kept on the premises as she did not know about life in the wild. Despite repeated appeals, Mali remained at Manila Zoo. 

Tributes for Mali

In a statement on Wednesday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said, "One of the world's saddest elephants has passed away. Mali the elephant died the same way she had lived for nearly 50 years: alone in a concrete pen at the Manila Zoo... Rest in peace, Mali. You deserved so much more."

"The Manila Zoo and the city of Manila sentenced Mali to decades of solitary confinement, which is torturous for female elephants, who naturally would spend their lives among their mothers and sisters, protecting one another and raising each other’s calves," the organisation further said.

"Sad about Mali, the famous Elephant here in the Philippines passing away. Hoping no more elephants will be confined to zoos," said another social media user on X.

Meanwhile, Manila mayor Lacuna said that she would ask the Sri Lankan government to donate another elephant to the Philippine capital. She further said that Mali's long-time caretakers had been crying over her death and that Mali's transfer to a sanctuary was "never considered", given the length of her stay. 

"She might seem alone, but she had us beside her...She was the face that greeted everyone who visited Manila Zoo. She is a part of our lives," said Lacuna in an emotional speech.

ALSO READ | Mama elephant carries dead calf for 2 kms, tries to revive it. Watch heartbreaking video

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