A 45-year old elephant may face a forced 1,400-mile (2,240-kilometer) trek. It will most likely be her death march.
In the Manila zoo in the Philippines, an Asian elephant has lived nearly her entire life in solitary captivity. ‘Mali’, donated in the 1970s by the government of Sri Lanka to – supposedly – the children of the Philippines, has endured her sterile enclosure for over 40 years. Now she faces a potential new peril: interest groups are lobbying to transfer Mali to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, an arduous journey for any pachyderm, let alone one of such an advanced age.
International animal welfare organization Network for Animals (NFA) is extremely concerned about the proposed relocation. “We can only imagine her suffering over the years,” says NFA’s chief Asian campaigner Paul Seigel. “However, as much as we strongly believe that wild animals should not be in zoos at all, we need to consider Mali’s age and her overall circumstances.”
The mayor of Manila, Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, is being pressured to sanction the transfer. But experts agree the decision is fraught. “If Mali left the country, there is a big chance that she will not reach Thailand safely,” believes veterinarian Ken Chua.
Over the last few years NFA has been assisting the Manila zoo in making Mali’s life more bearable. Donations have funded improvements to her enclosure, deliveries of sand in which she can roll to cool down, and blood tests to monitor her health.
Manila’s mayor is listening to different viewpoints, and continues to seek expert advice. NFA intends to meet with him urgently to clarify its call for the most humane outcome. “To be fair to the Manila zoo, her handlers are devoted to her. We’re working with them to explore how we can make her enclosure larger, or possibly move it to a quieter part of the zoo. Above all, we want Mali to live out her remaining days in peace and dignity,” concludes NFA’s Seigel.