On 28th November 2023, Vishwa Ma’ali (known as Mali), an elephant described as one of the world’s “saddest” elephants in zoos for having been living in isolation for decades, died at Manila Zoo, in the Philippines, where she lived almost all her life alone in a small barren enclosure. 

Dr Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, said that the day before, she was seen constantly rubbing her trunk against a wall, which indicated that she was in pain, and the next day Mali was lying on her side and breathing heavily, dying later that afternoon. An autopsy found that she had cancer in some of her organs, as well as a blockage in her aorta.

In 1981, the Sri Lankan government gave Mali as a present to former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, treating her as if she was just an object rather than the 11-month-old Asian elephant that she was. At that time, Manila Zoo was keeping prisoner another elephant, Shiva, who arrived in 1977 and died in 1990, so Mali had been alone since then.

Sir Paul McCartney had asked the authorities to transfer Mali to an elephant sanctuary, but it seems they did not listen. He said, “I am writing to add my voice to the many others who are supporting the transfer of Mali, the lonely elephant currently being held at the Manila Zoo, to a sanctuary in Thailand as soon as possible. I have great regard for governments that intervene [in] behalf of animals, just as yours did with the May 2012 directive ordering that Mali be evaluated and considered for transfer.” They do not seem to have learnt any lesson either, as they now want to keep other isolated elephants to continue to deserve the title of the makers of sad elephants. Sadly, Manila’s mayor, Honey Lacuna, nominated as the mayor to succeed Isko Moreno who had rejected the call for Mali’s transfer to a safer place, said the zoo will bring in two more elephants — who will die there in misery too.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.