Mali, 'One Of The World's Saddest Elephants,' Dies Alone In Captivity

The animal was given to the Philippines in 1980 by the Sri Lankan government. She spent most of her life alone in captivity.

Mali, dubbed the “one of the world’s saddest elephants” by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has died after a life in captivity.

Animal advocacy groups had long alleged that Mali, whose full name was Vishwamali, endured a life of loneliness and suffering during her time at the Manila Zoo in the Philippines before her death. But Manila authorities, who announced her death in a news conference this week, maintained otherwise.

“She might seem alone, but she had us beside her,” Manila’s mayor, Honey Lacuna, said in a translated announcement on Wednesday about Tuesday’s loss, per People. “She was the face that greeted everyone who visited Manila Zoo. She is a part of our lives.”

Mali lived in captivity at Manila Zoo for more than 40 years.
Mali lived in captivity at Manila Zoo for more than 40 years.
Ezra Acayan via Getty Images

Dr Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, said he administered antihistamines and vitamins Tuesday after observing Mali breathing heavily and lying on her side, the BBC reported. A postmortem found that the elephant, who was nearly 50, had cancer and a blocked aorta.

Mali spent decades alone in an enclosure as the only captive elephant in the country. She was donated at three years old in 1980 to then-First Lady Imelda Marcos by the Sri Lankan government after the elephant’s mother died.

She was initially placed in an enclosure with an older female elephant, Shiba, though the two reportedly did not get along. Shiba died six years later, leaving Mali alone.

Mali’s living conditions at the zoo sparked international outrage. In 2013, Paul McCartney wrote a joint letter with PETA urging then-Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to move Mali to “a lush, spacious sanctuary in Thailand.”

“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 letter alleged that Mali was enduring “intense confinement, loneliness, boredom and isolation” in captivity. It cited the size of her zoo enclosure, which it described as a “minuscule fraction of the size of her natural habitat.”

It also noted that keeping a female elephant in alone is “extremely detrimental to her mental health and well-being.” In the wild, female elephants live in herds their whole lives and have close-knit social relationships.

Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson and Jane Goodall had all pleaded for Mali's transfer.
Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson and Jane Goodall had all pleaded for Mali's transfer.
Ezra Acayan via Getty Images

Despite additional pleas from prominent figures including Pamela Anderson and Jane Goodall, Manila Zoo argued it was the only place Mali knew and that a transfer would harm the elephant’s health.

PETA said Mali did not receive proper veterinary treatment in the first place, telling CBS News in a statement that she was “never provided with routine veterinary care” and suffered from “painful foot problems” for years.

“We’re so sorry, Mali,” wrote PETA Asia on X, formerly Twitter. “You deserved better.”

Lacuna said on Wednesday she will inquire about another elephant donation from Sri Lanka.


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