Mali’s Miserable Life

Guest post by Rochelle Regodon,campaigns manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia;

Many of us remember Mali from class trips to the Manila Zoo as far back as 35 years ago. Mali is the Philippines’ only captive elephant—and perhaps one of the world’s saddest. In the wild, elephants roam territories of up to 50 kilometers every day, but Mali is confined to a very small enclosure at the zoo, which itself covers an area of only 0.055 square kilometers.

Mali was taken as a baby from Sri Lanka in 1977 and has spent the intervening decades in a small concrete pen. Her days of running and playing in the lush Asian jungle with other elephants must feel like a distant dream. But that may all be about to change, thanks to the help of President Benigno Aquino III, who has issued a directive stating that Mali should be considered for transfer to a sanctuary.

For elephants, family (either adopted or biological) is everything. Births are joyous celebrations. Deaths of loved ones are mourned. Youngsters are nurtured in close-knit family units and taught life skills such as how to use different kinds of leaves and mud to ward off sunburn and insect bites. Females stay with their families for life and males until their pre- or early teens. When Mali was taken, she was just learning how to swim, take baths, and find her own food. But when elephants are allowed to rejoin a herd, the outcome can be remarkable. Carol Buckley recently wrote about Tina, an elephant from the Greater Vancouver Zoo, and how she joined the herd at The Elephant Sanctuary in the U.S. You can read the article here.

Try to imagine living your whole life in a room the size of a bedroom, seeing the same four walls every day. You’d have no friends or companionship and nothing whatsoever to pass the time or provide you with comfort. You’d never get to leave. That’s exactly what life is like for Mali.

Being confined to such restricted environments takes a heavy toll on elephants. Captive elephants not only develop serious foot disorders and arthritis (the leading cause of death in captive elephants) but also are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, which is emotionally and mentally devastating.

Dr. Mel Richardson—who has more than 40 years of experience working with former zoo and circus animals and specializes in elephants—performed a medical examination of Mali during a visit to Manila. Dr. Richardson stated that Mali suffers from potentially fatal foot problems and that the only way to ensure her physical and psychological well-being is to relocate her to an elephant sanctuary, where she can be cared for by elephant experts. He cites chronic pressure sores on her feet, which are open to contamination; cracked nails and pads; and overgrown cuticles, all of which can harbor bacteria and become infected. But Dr. Richardson’s biggest concern was the mental suffering that Mali endures in her isolation without the company of other elephants.

Numerous experts have spoken out in favor of Mali’s transfer, including most recently Dr. Jane Goodall. “Elephants need the company and companionship of other elephants. Even if Mali were in a sound state physically, keeping her alone in a cramped, barren pen is still ethically indefensible. . . . The Manila Zoo has failed Mali,” Goodall wrote. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has also backed Mali’s transfer, stating, “‘Mali’ might have few years to live but these remaining years will be more expressive of man’s compassion towards [God’s other] creatures.”

Mali is a mere shell of the magnificent being she’s meant to be. She is the only captive elephant in the Philippines, and she needs to be retired without delay. A sanctuary can offer her acres to roam, ponds to bathe in, fresh vegetation to eat, foraging opportunities, and, perhaps most importantly, the company of many other elephants.

I hope you will join me and the many other compassionate Filipinos rallying for Mali’s freedom. Please urge officials to expedite Mali’s transfer by signing this petition. If you want to stay updated on the campaign, “like” the Facebook page.