Mali, Known as World’s Saddest Elephant, Dies After 45 Years in Manila Zoo

Mali, an Asian elephant once known as the “world’s saddest elephant,” has passed away after spending nearly half a century in captivity at the Manila Zoo.

Her death, announced by Mayor Honey Lacuna, marks the end of a life marked by controversy and calls for her freedom.

Photo: Pexels
Elephants in zoos often live in enclosures far smaller than their natural habitat.

Decades of Solitude

Born Vishwa Ma’ali, Mali was transferred from Sri Lanka to the Philippines as a young calf in 1977. For most of her 45 years at the Manila Zoo, Mali lived alone, her only companion, another elephant named Shiva, having died in 1990, reports the BBC. This isolation was a point of concern for many animal welfare advocates, including PETA, who dubbed her the “world’s saddest elephant” due to the intense confinement and loneliness she endured.

Mali was dubbed
Photo: YouTube / MyGardenSoul
Mali was dubbed “the world’s loneliest elephant.”

Global Campaigns for Mali’s Release

The plight of Mali attracted international attention, with celebrities like Paul McCartney and Dr. Jane Goodall advocating for her relocation to a sanctuary. McCartney, in a letter to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, expressed deep concern for Mali’s well-being, urging her transfer for a better life, People reports.

Mali, however, remained at the Manila Zoo, where she was a familiar face to visitors and considered an integral part of the establishment.

Many zoo elephants show signs of distress, like repetitive swaying or head-bobbing.
Photo: Pexels
Many zoo elephants show signs of distress, like repetitive swaying or head-bobbing.

The Final Days

In her final days, Mali’s health sharply declined. According to The Independent, Dr. Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, noted that Mali was seen in distress, rubbing her trunk against a wall in a sign of pain.

Despite the efforts of the zoo’s veterinarians, who administered antihistamines and vitamins, Mali eventually succumbed to health complications, including cancer and an aorta blockage.

Controversy and Criticism

Mali’s captivity sparked a divide in opinions. Animal rights activists criticized the conditions at the Manila Zoo, claiming Mali suffered from neglect and inadequate medical care.

In a statement to CBS News, PETA Asia said Mali, who was nearly 50, died in her “barren concrete pen,” because of “indifference and greed.”

In contrast, zoo authorities and some local figures argued that the zoo was the only home Mali knew and that she received proper care. Mayor Lacuna expressed a personal connection with Mali, noting her as a part of the lives of those who grew up visiting the zoo, reports the BBC.

Public opinion about keeping elephants in zoos is increasingly divided.
Photo: Pexels
Public opinion about keeping elephants in zoos is increasingly divided.

Aftermath and Reflection

Mali’s death has reignited discussions about the ethics of animal captivity and welfare. Animal rights groups argue that Mali’s story should serve as a lesson against the solitary confinement of social animals like elephants., while some still see zoos as important educational and conservation tools, CBS notes.

Mali’s story, a blend of public affection and advocacy for better treatment, stands as a testament to the complex relationship between humans and animals in captivity. It also raises critical questions about animal welfare, the role of zoos, and the responsibility we bear towards creatures under our care.

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