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Mali's Second Chance at Life

Mali has lived in captivity for over 40 years, but at heart she is still an animal born to live wild and free. Mali's natural instincts to engage in behavior that is meaningful and important to all elephants didn't disappear simply because she's been deprived of her natural habitat. Just as the thought of independence compels a prisoner to stare longingly out a window, freedom is no less compelling for animals.

"Mali's living condition has now become deplorable and not anymore conducive for her to live safely and healthily." –Senate leader Juan Ponce Enrile

Around the world, there is growing recognition that the complex needs of elephants cannot be met in captivity, and dozens of zoos have closed their elephant displays. The government of India has ordered that all elephants in zoos be transferred to sanctuaries and reserves. But despite a directive from former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III stating that Mali's health should be evaluated and that she should be considered for transfer, the Manila Zoo is doing everything that it can to delay the move.

Loneliness, Misery

Elephants need other elephants in order to live a fulfilled and happy life. Females stay with their families for life. Aunts babysit, grandmothers mentor, and siblings roughhouse and play.

Youngsters are taught life skills, such as how to use different kinds of leaves and mud to ward off sunburn and insect bites. Births are joyous celebrations. Deaths of loved ones are mourned. Although Mali has not seen another elephant in nearly 40 years, elephants in similar circumstances have been brought to sanctuaries to live happy lives among their own kind.

  • Mali's enclosure at the Manila Zoo has little enrichment.

  • Mali spends all day standing on concrete, which only worsens her foot problems.

  • Mali has suffered long enough—she deserves a second chance at life.

  • At Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary, Mali can enjoy bathing and playing in the water.

    At Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary, Mali can enjoy bathing and playing in the water.

  • The sanctuary that has accepted Mali boasts 500 acres.

    The sanctuary that has accepted Mali boasts 500 acres.

  • Female elephants are highly social animals who thrive in herds.

    Female elephants are highly social animals who thrive in herds.

Walking to Nowhere

In the wild, elephants spend up to 18 hours a day on the move, walking on grass, soil, dirt, and mud. Lack of exercise and severely restricted space can lead to painful—and often fatal—joint and foot problems. Preventative foot care programs are essential for captive elephants, but Mali has not received any appropriate foot care since the day that she arrived at the Manila Zoo.

In May 2012, internationally recognized elephant expert Dr. Henry Richardson preformed a medical examination of Mali.

In his report, Dr. Richardson cites foot ailments, including cracked nails, overgrown cuticles, and cracked pads—all three of which can harbor bacteria and become infected. Such foot problems are the leading cause of death in captive elephants.

Constant Pain

In November 2012, Dr. Richardson reported that since his initial examination of Mali in May, the elephant's condition has worsened.

Richardson says, "Mali favors or removes the weight from primarily her left forelimb, regularly when standing in one place. … I am absolutely certain Mali has pain in her front limbs and feet."

He adds, "To put it simply: Mali may die from the lack of care she is receiving if left at the zoo. … All of the information that I am receiving forces me to draw the conclusion that the management of the zoo and the politicians of Manila and/or the Philippines are more interested in keeping Mali in the Philippines no matter how much she suffers, even if it kills her."

"Thirty-five years is a heavy sentence to bear, longer than is served by most murderers. Mali has paid the penalty for not being fortunate enough to be born human. Now it is time to release her." –Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee


PETA has volunteered to cover all expenses related to Mali's transport and the care needed to prepare her for the journey. We have also agreed to coordinate the transfer.

The Sanctuary

Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary

Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) in Thailand has been recommended as the best place for Mali by several elephant experts who have evaluated numerous sanctuaries in Asia. The facility has already agreed to accept Mali.

BLES offers 500 acres of banana plantations, grasslands, freshwater rivers, and all types of fruit trees. The elephants at BLES have room to roam, explore, socialize, forage, swim, and play. Caretakers are on hand 24 hours a day to monitor the elephants and ensure that they have everything that they need. BLES has successfully rehabilitated many captive elephants, and the staff are confident that Mali would adjust to her new life quickly and easily since female elephants form very strong bonds with other females.

The sanctuary's 12 elephants were once used as working elephants or were rescued from other unfortunate circumstances. The skilled staff has expertise in caring for elephants in poor health, introducing new elephants to established herds, and helping to rehabilitate formerly captive elephants. BLES does not use elephants for profit and never forces them to perform, to be hand-fed, or to do anything that they don't want to do. Unlike at other sanctuaries, visitors are not allowed to interact with the elephants unless the elephants initiate the interaction—otherwise, visitors can watch them only from a distance. The sanctuary deliberately accepts just a few visitors at a time in order to ensure that the elephants never have to be around people if they don't want to be.

BLES has allocated a five-acre space for Mali to call home during her first few months at the sanctuary. Mali's area will include a large bathing pond, and the fencing surrounding the area will allow her to interact with other elephants if she chooses. The sanctuary's program for integration is simple: Staff let the elephants dictate when they are ready to mix with the herd, and they never force an animal into a situation in which he or she feels uncomfortable.

Although there's no reason to believe that Mali will not embrace the company of other elephants, even if she chooses solitude, she will still be able to enjoy all the joys that the sanctuary offers. Whether to have contact with the herd or to interact with humans will be entirely up to her.

This is where Mali belongs.