MANILA, Nov. 29 (ST) – Mali, the elephant that had lived alone in a zoo in Manila in the Philippines for more than 40 years, and which animal rights activists had described as “one of the world’s saddest elephants”, died on Nov 28.

Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna said in a video message on Facebook that Vishwa Ma’ali – the elephant’s full name – died at 3.45pm.

There is no record of exactly how old she was, but she was believed to be 48 to 49 years old.

Dr Lacuna said the zoo had yet to ascertain the cause of her death.

Mali had been the Manila Zoo’s star attraction. Nearly all Filipinos who had been on field trips when they were in primary school most likely saw her and were awed by her.

Mali was sent as a gift by Sri Lanka in 1977 to then Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos.

Found orphaned in the wild, she was about three years old when she arrived in Manila. Mali was put in a pen with an older female elephant, Shiba, who had been rescued from a circus.

Shiba was territorial and aggressive, and bullied the much younger and smaller Mali. The older pachyderm died just six years later. Since then, Mali had been the sole elephant at the Manila zoo.

The zoo, which had always struggled with funding, could not afford to purchase a new elephant.

Back then, buying an elephant already cost millions of pesos, and having to take care of two elephants would have cost millions more.

In 2012, animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) started a campaign to have Mali moved to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, calling her “perhaps one of the world’s saddest elephants”.

The group claimed that the elephant had, for more than 40 years, been confined alone to a “barren, concrete enclosure”.

It also said Mali had been “denied proper veterinary care”.

Peta flew in a veterinary expert who concluded that Mali suffered from “potentially fatal cracked nails and foot pads… and overgrown cuticles”.

But the city government disputed the group’s findings.

It pointed out that Peta, in a petition it circulated, misleadingly used the photo of an emaciated elephant at a zoo in Russia.

Photo from Philippine Daily Inquirer