My Take

Manila, free Mali the elephant now!

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 3:03am

Mali is the Philippines' only captive elephant and one of the world's saddest and loneliest. Captured in Sri Lanka in 1977, she has spent the past 35 years inside a very small, barren concrete pen at the Manila Zoo. While there, she has never seen another elephant, a highly sociable species that requires constant company to stay healthy, happy and sane.

Now a large sanctuary in Thailand has offered to take her in. The animal rights group Peta Asia has started a campaign to free Mali and offered to cover the entire cost of transferring the elephant to Thailand. At the sanctuary, Mali would enjoy vast spaces to roam, ponds to bathe in and fresh vegetation to feast on, along with foraging opportunities in the company of 14 other elephants.

So why isn't this happening? The Manila Zoo has used every excuse and delaying tactic to stop the transfer. This is despite a directive from Philippine President Benigno Aquino that Mali should go if her health allows it. Several prominent Philippine senators and congressmen have joined the call to free Mali. The Hong Kong-based Asia for Animals Coalition has asked the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong to help. World-renowned elephant expert Dr Henry Richardson recently gave Mali a physical check-up, her first at the zoo, and concluded the only threat to her health is her confinement. The long years of confinement have led to severe foot problems - the leading cause of death among captive elephants.

It's a little unclear why the zoo is stalling and ignoring Mali's welfare, though Mali being a star attraction may have something to do with it. "Why is she still in this dump when she has a great place to go to?" asked Peta's Ashley Fruno.

"In the wild, elephants roam territories of up to 50 kilometres every day, but Mali is confined to a very small, barren concrete enclosure. She has been denied activities that elephants need for their physical and emotional health, such as grazing, plucking fruit and leaves from trees, taking mud baths and spending hours a day swimming and playing in the water. While female elephants in the wild spend their entire lives alongside their mothers in extended family clans, Mali hasn't seen another elephant in 30 years."

You can join Peta Asia's online petition at