Mali, known as “saddest elephant in the world,” dead at 49 after decades in captivity — rest in peace

Too many animals spend their lives in captivity, and even worse are kept isolated from their own kind. For decades, that was the case for Mali, an elephant who spent her life in a Philippines zoo and was known as the “saddest elephant in the world.”

Sadly, it was recently announced that Mali had died at the age of 49 — and despite longstanding efforts to free her, she still died in captivity.

Mali – “world’s loneliest elephant”

Mali resided at the Manila Zoo in the Philippines for nearly her whole life. While she was a star attraction for visitors to the zoo, she also got the attention of animal activists who were concerned for her welfare.

According to BBC News, Mali — full name Vishwa Ma’ali — was gifted to first lady Imelda Marcos by the Sri Lankan government, when the elephant was just just 11 months old. When the Manila Zoo’s other elephant, Shiva, died in 1990, Mali was all alone. She also became the Philippines’ only captive elephant.

(Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

Animal activists raised concerns both about Mali’s isolation from her own kind and of the poor conditions of the zoo, and petitioned for her to be released to a sanctuary. Animal rights group PETA collaborated with music legend Sir Paul McCartney to push for her freedom, calling her the “world’s loneliest elephant.”

“Free Mali” campaign

McCartney wrote a letter to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, requesting that Mali be transferred to a sanctuary in Thailand, who agreed to take the elephant in: “With the stroke of a pen, you can bring an end to her suffering and I urge you, with all my heart, to please direct that Mali be given that joy now,” McCartney wrote.

The “Free Mali” campaign grew and gained vocal support from more celebrities, including Pamela Anderson, The Smiths frontman Morrissey and Jane Goodall. Despite the outcry, Mali remained at the Manila Zoo for the rest of her life, with officials arguing that Mali was used to the captivity she was raised in and would not do well in the wild.

Mali remained a popular attraction at the Manila Zoo: she was a favorite among children, and the elephant kept them entertained when the zoo was used as a COVID-19 vaccination center last year.

(Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

“Died the same way she had lived for nearly 50 years”

Mali’s death was announced at a press conference yesterday by Manila mayor Honey Lacuna. The mayor said that visiting Mali at the zoo was among her favorite childhood memories, per the BBC.

The zoo’s chief veterinarian Dr Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo said Mali had been rubbing her trunk against the wall, indicating that she was in pain. Veterinarians gave her medication but she died that afternoon; an autopsy revealed that she had cancer in her organs and a blockage of her aorta.

The news was met with heartbreak and outrage from animal activists, upset that despite years of campaigning Mali died in captivity.

(Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

“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 Asia wrote in a release. “The Manila Zoo and the city of Manila sentenced Mali to decades of solitary confinement, which is torturous for female elephants, who naturally would spend their lives among their mothers and sisters, protecting one another and raising each other’s calves.”

They also said Mali’s death was a result of poor care and treatment, and that zoo staff failed to notice her medical problems in time. If she had been transferred to an elephant sanctuary, she could have gotten expert medical care. “Every person who denied her veterinary care and blocked her transfer to a sanctuary should be held accountable for their part in allowing Mali’s suffering,” PETA Asia wrote.

The organization also urged the government of Sri Lanka to halt plans to send another elephant to the Manila Zoo.

Rest in peace, Mali — it’s heartbreaking that you had to spent your whole life in captivity, isolated from other elephants 💔❤️ Her story is a sad reminder of how many animals still live in captivity and need our help.

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