'World's Saddest Elephant' Dies After Decades of Isolation

Mali was the only elephant in the Philippines for decades
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 29, 2023 2:26 PM CST
'World's Saddest Elephant' Dies in Manila Zoo
A Filipino caretaker sprays water towards Mali's mouth at the Manila Zoo, Philippines on Thursday, April 4, 2013.   (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

An elephant that animal rights activists called the "world's saddest" has died in Manila, where she was the only elephant in the zoo—and the country. Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna announced the death of the female Asian elephant on Wednesday, CBS News reports. Mali—short for Vishwa Ma'ali—was around three years old in 1977, when the Sri Lanka government gave her to then-first lady Imelda Marcos. The zoo's other elephant, Shiva, died in 1990, leaving Mali isolated for decades, reports the BBC.

PETA had long campaigned for Mali to be transferred from the Philippines to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, saying she endured "intense confinement, loneliness, boredom, and isolation" in her small enclosure at the zoo. The group said Wednesday that "solitary confinement" was especially difficult for female elephants, "who naturally would spend their lives among their mothers and sisters, protecting one another and raising each other's calves." Celebrity supporters of the campaign included Paul McCartney, who told then-President Benigno Aquino III in 2012 that footage of Mali was "heartbreaking."

"Because of indifference and greed, Mali the elephant died the same way she had lived for nearly 50 years: alone in a concrete pen at the Manila Zoo," PETA said. Zoo veterinarian Heinrich Domingo said an autopsy determined that Mali died from pancreatic cancer, Deutsche Welle reports. He denied that she had been neglected, saying, "We were her family." Lacuna said Mali was "the face that greeted everyone who visited Manila Zoo" and a transfer to a sanctuary was "never considered" because she had been in captivity so long. The mayor said she would ask the Sri Lankan government for another elephant. (More elephant stories.)

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