Manila Zoo rejects UK rocker’s plea to retire Mali, the elephant, in US



SHE’S STAYING Mali the elephant is not leaving the Manila Zoo. FILE PHOTO

Mali is happy in her Philippine home. Why remove her from the Manila Zoo—where she has lived for more than three decades—and take her to a strange new sanctuary in the United States?

That was the reply of Manila City government officials to an appeal from British rock icon Morrissey, who had written President Benigno Aquino III asking that Mali—now 36 years old and weighing 7 tons (14,000 pounds)—be freed from captivity, sent into retirement and allowed to live in a US sanctuary for aging elephants.

“She is used to this kind of environment,” Deogracias Manimbo, head of Manila’s Public Recreation and Parks Bureau, which oversees the Manila Zoo, told the Inquirer. “She might not withstand a different environment from what she has gotten used to.”

Under study

“She (also) might not survive in the wild,” Manimbo said, adding: “The fact that she has exceeded her life expectancy of 35 years while at the Manila Zoo means that she is happy there.”

Mali has been at the zoo for 32 years, or since she was orphaned at 4 years old, and may no longer adapt well in the wild, Manimbo also said.

Mali, now 10 feet tall, was donated by the Sri Lankan government in 1980 to then first lady Imelda Marcos and came from one of the elephant orphanages in that country, according to Manimbo.

Malacañang said it had received Morrisey’s letter to Aquino and was looking into it.

“According to the Office of the Executive Secretary, it received the letter today (Thursday) and it is being evaluated,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a text message.

Deserves to be free

Ahead of his Manila concert scheduled for May 13, Morrissey called on Aquino to send what the rock star described as Manila Zoo’s long-suffering elephant into retirement.

The British ex-singer of the alternative rock group The Smiths said that Mali deserved a reprieve from a lifetime of confinement.

“I ask that you send Mali to a sanctuary, where she would have room to roam and be able to be among other members of her own species,” Morrissey wrote.

Echoing allegations by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), Morrissey said Mali had been unable to roam and socialize unlike her cousins in the wild.

A lonely life

“Her life consists of extreme loneliness, boredom and isolation in an area that is a fraction of the size of her natural habitat,” Morrissey said, suggesting this could drive her to insanity.

Peta, which Morrissey supports, wants Mali shipped to a US sanctuary for old, sick or needy elephants that have been retired from zoos and circuses.

It was not the first time Aquino’s intervention had been sought over conditions at the nearly 53-year-old zoo.

Last year a college student’s blog about allegedly mistreated zoo animals provoked an instant Internet global furor and forced Aquino to call on officials to look into their welfare.

‘Well and fit’

Manila Zoo chief veterinarian Donald Manalastas yesterday insisted that Mali, donated by Sri Lanka after its parents were poached, was well and fit.

“We have expanded the enclosure of Mali and increased her food with more nutrients. We have proof and papers of what we feed her. We do not torture her,” Manalastas told Agence France-Presse.

Manimbo told the Inquirer that the Peta and other animal rights groups had long been clamoring for Mali—whose full name is Vishwamali—to be returned to the wild.

Manimbo said that government agencies, including the Bureau of Animal Industry  and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, had certified that the female elephant was well cared for at the zoo.

Mali’s ‘natural habitat’

“She was precisely donated to us because she needed a home where she would be well taken care of,” Manimbo said, adding the Manila Zoo had practically become Mali’s “natural habitat.”

Mali’s “natural habitat” is a 2,000-square meter enclosure where she has access to two water pools for bathing and for drinking and where she is fed and tended to by animal experts.

“If Mali had been taken from the wild, it (keeping her in captivity) would be so wrong. But the elephant came from a zoo exchange and she has been in captivity for 36 years. She can no longer be put in the wild,” Manimbo stressed.

A zoo exchange is practical because other zoos have excess animals, mostly captive-bred, which the zoos may not be able to tend to.

“She will be helpless in the wild and that would be more cruel,” Manimbo stressed. With reports from AFP, Norman Bordadora and trainees Julliane de Jesus and Ann Clariz Yap

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  • Lorenz77

    This is rediculous. Bring “Mali” to the US?  First, the USDA authorities will not just accept live animals from the Philippines;  Second,  “Vishuamali” (or “Mali”, as it is now called) is pretty doing well in Manila. Her singhalese name was “Vishuamali” but I am not sure if the changed of name was done during my watch or latter and named her “Mali”. The Zoo staff are doing a great job in improving and maintaining her health condition. I saw her through photos and I can, as a student in zoo animal medicine that she is doing just fine there in Manila Zoo. I certainly support the decision of the  PRB management in not entertaining this suggestion. I am quite familiar with this elephant because I was the Zoo Vet who took care of her from the time she arrived at the airport in the early ’80’s. She was only 8 months old then, contrary to reports. We used to gave her gallons of powdered milk  in her infant years. Contrary to other stories that her mother was killed by  pouchers the truth was that she was orphaned after her mother was destroyed at the elephant sanctuary and rehabilitation center in Ceylon because of a leg fracture  after  a fall in a  ravine.  She came to Manila  with the flight of PM Primatilkha  Premadasha, the Sri Lankan prime minister   at the time who was on a state visit. The then PRB Director Art Co and myself (together with keeper Singson) then  brought her to Malacanang 2 days later for the formal presentation AS  GIFT FROM THE CHILDREN OF SRI LANKA TO THE CHILDREN OF THE PHILIPPINES. For several years we would released her from the enclosure to exercise  by letting her walk several rounds  all around the zoo compound to the amazement of the zoo visitors. We gradually stopped the procedure (i.e. exercise) when she started to show disobedient to the command and become hazardous to the keepers and the general public. She loved to be bath and brushed her body. She is NO ordinary exhibit. She is Special…Very Special indeed. She is very special since she is a gift to ALL  the Filipino children.  The animal keeper’s at the time who painstakingly took  care for “Vishuamali” were Luis Singson, Cardenas and Manong “Pong” Eguillos.  They’ve really  done a great job…LVBaquilod, DVM/Arizona

    • WeAry_Bat

       I was a child at that time.  Speaking as a grown-up child, I wish the elephant to retire with her own kind. 

    • everydaysearch

       Yes they have!  Please check out

  • Maria

    It’s hard to comment about this animal condition. Likewise if it s a person that been in captivity and used of it then if she set her free, that could do some harm because she’s not used of it. I think, she need a more space. Manila zoo had different outlook when it’s comes to animal situation that London zoo or UK zoo. Animal here has to have big space for them to roam around. I would suggest that make Manila zoo should have more land and give animal some respect like people. They are not criminals. So give them some space.

  • turniphouse

    there is a need to improve the Manila Zoo really.  let Mali stay.    

    • Happy Joyful

      so hesistate to visit again themanila  zoo kasi mabaho at pinababayaan ang mga hayop doon.  hindi na ako bumalik, sana maraming mag-rally about the manila zoon.  kulang sa attention ang mga hayop doon and care .  at maraming vendor..i don;t know..hindi ito tourist spot.  mabuti pa sa avalon zoon.  sana huwag maging manana habit ang avalon zoo ngayon maganda at alaga ang mga hayop in the future baka hindi na.. pero hindi pa ako  sold-out sa parking space sa avalon zoo maraming kalat…at kulang sa puno. 

  • MahalinAngInangBayan

    Mr. Manimbo’s belief or fear that “Mali will not survive in the wild ” is unfounded and untenable. The retirement sanctuary is not the wild, but a very beautiful, vast area, with lush and verdant vegetations and trees, where aging elephants, who had spent so many, many years serving mankind now spend the remaining years of their lives in peace and happiness in the company of other aging elephants. Mali should be given the opportunity to experience life with her own kind. Almost four decades of living in loneliness and boredom should end. We should give her the chance to be happy in a retirement sanctuary with her fellow elephants. She deserves such gift of gratitude from us, Filipinos, for so many, many years that she has been there for us at the Manila Zoo, giving joy and satisfaction to the Filipino kids and adults, who go to the Zoo to see and have happy and memorable moments with her.

    Yes, we love her and we do not want to part with her, but one of the most significant affirmations of that love is to let her go in order for her to find and have the kind of life and happiness that she deserves. I had seen an elephant retirement sanctuary in the US on PBS and the scenes I witnessed on the TV screen were truly touching and had moved me to tears. Mali should not be deprived of the peace, security, and happy life in an elephant retirement sanctuary. The Manila Zoo can acquire a young elephant to replace Mali, if it really needs a resident elephant, but let Mali be given her much-needed retirement from public life. I join the call for Mali’s freedom and respectfully request President Aquino to heed Mr. Morrissey’s own request. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Nadj Villaver

    “Mali’s “natural habitat” is a 2,000-square meter enclosure where she has access to two water pools for bathing and for drinking and where she is fed and tended to by animal experts.”
    I believe this is partly not true. I’ve been to Manila zoo just two weeks ago and I DIDN’T SAW THAT THERE WAS A WATER IN THE TWO WATER POOLS FOR BATHING AND DRINKING AS THEY CLAIM IN THIS STATEMENT.

    It was around 2 pm, the heat of the sun was intense and Mali went to the “water pool” area BUT THERE WAS NO WATER. MALI BATHE HERSELF WITH SAND! We believe that Mali thought it was water while she continuously get the sand and roll it in her body.

    We just hope that they really do what they claim.

    Yes, before this incident we saw Mali was being given a bath by a zoo keeper. but it lasted for only minutes. With the summer season, Mali and the rest of the animals needs more water than the usual.

    Somehow I’m don’t agree that Mali being taken away from Manila Zoo. I agree with their arguments that Mali might not adopt with the environment outside Manila Zoo.
    But I just hope that they exert more effort in taking care of Mali and the rest of the animals.

    I know it’s hard and with the budget of the zoo, it’s harder. Hopefully, the government will allot more budget. And I hope organizations WILL HELP IN PRESERVING THE ZOO rather than protest.

    • mfdo

       you don’t know much about elephants do you ?? look up elephants doing sand bath .. it is their natural thing .. and they are not mistaking sand for water .. jeez .. get a life man ..

  • i_am_filipino


  • Guest

    First time to know so many people know elephant languange and body language !!! How the heck did these opposing camps come to know  that their interpretations of the elephant’s behavior are the true interpretations (contradicting as they are!!!) ?!?!

    Wow…its more fun(ny elephants) in the Philippines…

  • 1ncorruptus

    We should set Mali free. Let her know happiness not only with humans, but also with her own kind. If the Manila Zoo would not really let her go, then bring in another elephant to keep her company. We understand that so many people have grown so attached to this very endearing, lovable behemoth and could not endure emotionally to part with her, but they should understand that humans could not replace completely the love and company of Mali’s co-species.

  • 1ncorruptus

    I would like to take the opportunity to convey to Mr. Morrissey and PETA the very sad plight of the animals in the Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary in Calauit island in Palawan, Philippines. Please help them. Their numbers have been decimated due to the return of former inhabitants, who had been already relocated to another island when Calauit island was declared a wildlife sanctuary for the animals, who were transported to the Philippines from Africa during the Marcos regime. These people have been poaching and slaughtering the hapless animals for food, inspite of the fact that fish and other kinds of seafood abound around the area. The government should have prevented any human encroachment in the sanctuary, inasmuch as peaceful and harmonious co-existence is not possible among the helpless animals and those human settlers, who have no compassion for animals or appreciation of the unfortunate circumstances the animals are in.
    Only giraffes and zebras remain in the sanctuary in the company of native Calamian deers and their numbers are continually dwindling. The impalas were the latest species from Africa that had been made extinct by the poachers. The sanctuary is very short of funds to keep and sustain the animals and pay the salaries of the employees. There is no resident veterinary doctor to attend to the health and emergency needs of the animals. I hope and pray that animal welfare organizations, local and international, would help them .The island, by law, is solely an animal sanctuary. People there should be relocated again to the other island. The local and national government should implement this.

  • Richie Battung

    Close all the zoos here, I’m content at seeing this magnificent creatures on tv/internet. They deserve to be in the wild and with protection.

  • tif guevara

    that’s bull$^&%. Mali, when i last saw her was trying to get her foot across the enclosure gutter of her cage in the zoo. She wants to get out. Close Manila Zoo and other zoos in here. The facilities are decrepit and the animals have some form of infection or the other. Sinungaling yung nagsasabi na “happy” yung si Mali and other animals sa zoo. Sila kaya, ilagay sa isang cage para pagmasdan ng iba’t ibang tao for 36 f*cking years, maging masaya? Bobo.

    • kathycg

      and you’ve worked with her closely right? So you know her really, really well…..

      Ma’ali is happy. I can attest to that. My family and I have been volunteering to help take care of her for the last 12 years.

      Instead of just b*tching, maybe you’d like to pitch in? :)

  • everydaysearch

    Hello everyone!  Maali has so many photos in Facebook.  Check it out and see how she lives her life in the company of Filipino children.  She is making so many children happy – moreso those with disabilities – Facebook:

  • mynameisjayee

    Natatakot siguro tong mga Gov’t ng manila na hindi magkaintindihan si Mali at ang mga pinsan niya sa US kasi mga englesero… Don’t you worry, the world knows that this country can speak English!

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