World’s saddest elephant gifted to Philippines by Sri Lanka dies

World’s saddest elephant gifted to Philippines by Sri Lanka dies

An elephant gifted to the Philippines by Sri Lanka christened by activists as one of the world’s “saddest” has died at a Philippine zoo, where she lived almost all her life alone in a pen.

Tributes have poured in for Mali, who was the star attraction at Manila Zoo for four decades and much beloved.

But the lonely plight of the country’s only elephant was a long-running concern for animal rights activists.

One of them was Sir Paul McCartney, who asked authorities to transfer Mali to an elephant sanctuary.

Mali’s death on Tuesday was announced in a Facebook video by Manila mayor Honey Lacuna, who said visits to the zoo to see Mali were among her happiest childhood memories.

Last Friday, the Asian elephant was seen constantly rubbing her trunk against a wall, which indicated that she was in pain, the zoo’s chief veterinarian Dr Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo said.

By early Tuesday, Mali was lying on her side and breathing heavily. Veterinarians administered antihistamines and vitamins but she died later that afternoon. An autopsy found that she had cancer in some of her organs, as well as a blockage in her aorta.

Mali, whose full name is Vishwa Ma’ali, was gifted to former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos by the Sri Lankan government in 1981, when she was 11 months old.Manila Zoo was also home to another elephant, Shiva, who arrived in 1977 and died in 1990. Mali had been the zoo’s only elephant since then. At the height of the pandemic, the Manila Zoo also served as a vaccination site for children, where Mali kept them entertained.

Animal rights activists criticised the decrepit conditions at Manila Zoo and said its keepers were ill-equipped to provide Mali with proper medical care. Zoo authorities however argued that the elephant was best kept in captivity as she had not known what life was like in the wild.

In a letter to then President Benigno Aquino III in 2012, Sir Paul described footage he saw of Mali in captivity 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.

Former Smiths frontman Morrissey made a similar written appeal, but Mali remained at Manila Zoo.

“One of the world’s saddest elephants has passed away,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said. “Rest in peace, Mali, you deserve so much more.”

On X, formerly Twitter, different generations of Filipinos recalled how school field trips in Manila would always include a visit to Mali, and lamented the fact that she died alone.

One user recalled her first sight of Mali 11 years ago. “Seeing Mali walking around, you will feel how lonely this elephant is. It broke my heart… and now it was announced that Mali has died.”

“Sad about Mali, the famous elephant here in the Philippines passing away. Hoping no more elephants will be confined to zoos,” another X user wrote.

At a press conference on Wednesday, the Manila mayor told reporters that she would ask the Sri Lankan government to donate another elephant to the Philippine capital.

She said Mali’s long-time caretakers had been crying over her death, and added that Mali’s transfer to a sanctuary was “never considered”, given the length of her captivity.

“She might seem alone, but she had us beside her,” Ms Lacuna said in Tagalog, her voice cracking. “She was the face that greeted everyone who visited Manila Zoo. She is a part of our lives.” (BBC/Colombo Gazette)

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