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What Are the Manila Zoo's Excuses?

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Mali's age poses a risk to her successful transfer.


Elephants are successfully transported from zoo to zoo, from location to location by circuses, and from zoos to sanctuaries in trucks, planes, and trains. Canada's Toronto Zoo transferred three African elephants—Iringa (42 years old), Toka (41 years old), and Thika (31 years old)—to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in the U.S. state of California. And Maggie, a 27-year-old African elephant, was transported via a C-17 plane from the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage to PAWS.

At the age of 33, Tina, an Asian elephant, took a three-and-a-half-day cross-country truck trip to The Elephant Sanctuary in the U.S. state of Tennessee. Transporting elephants is a routine practice, and it can be done without causing significant stress to the animals.

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Mali dislikes loud noises.

Fact: Elephants are highly adaptable and can learn quickly.

Part of the training that Mali will receive prior to her transfer would include preparing her for the noises that may occur during transport. Many elephants who are transferred to sanctuaries have histories similar to Mali's, but sanctuary caregivers find that elephants welcome new and interesting situations, especially when they've been deprived of enrichment and stimulation. PETA has the backing of many international elephant and wildlife experts who are confident that Mali will cope very well in her new environment and that transferring her would be the right thing to do for her welfare.

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Mali has adjusted to her environment at the zoo.

Fact: Animals born to live in the wild retain their instincts even after many years in captivity.

We commend the Manila Zoo personnel for caring for Mali as best as they could. But science tells us that animals retain their natural drives, even after years or decades in captivity. A sanctuary will offer Mali acres to roam and explore, ponds to bathe in, fresh vegetation to eat, foraging opportunities, and, most importantly, the company of other elephants—all while under 24-hour supervision by elephant experts. Even though Mali is considered to be an aged captive elephant, Asian elephants in the wild can live up to 70 years, not 42 to 45 years, as the zoo claims. (However, studies do show that captive elephants frequently die far short of their natural lifespans).

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Mali considers her keepers to be her family.

Fact: The company of other elephants is extremely important to an elephant's well-being.

It's self-serving to claim that Mali prefers human company over that of others who look like her, smell like her, and understand her vocalizations and body language. Housing an elephant alone is unanimously condemned by experts worldwide, and no zoo association approves of keeping a female elephant by herself. Sanctuaries routinely introduce elephants—many of whom have spent decades alone—to new herds with great success.

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Mali has never been administered medication other than topical ointments and laxatives, so she shouldn't be given any now.

Fact: Just because Mali has never received proper veterinary care doesn't mean that she should continue to be denied it.

Denying Mali proper and comprehensive veterinary care now, simply because she has never received any in the past, is naïve, incorrect, and reckless. All captive animals—regardless of their history or species—require regular exams, including blood panels to check for diseases that may be asymptomatic. This care is especially important as Mali ages. The lack of care that Mali has received in the past demonstrates that the Manila Zoo's veterinarians lack fundamental expertise in elephant husbandry.

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Cleaning Mali's enclosure is sufficient preventive foot care.

Fact: Every reputable zoo implements a comprehensive foot-care program.

Mali's cramped pen means that she is unable to move around much and is left to stand for long hours on concrete. This takes a toll on her feet, legs, and joints. A controlled foot-care program that includes monitoring the thickness of her food pads, trimming her nails and cuticles, and filing her nails is a fundamental requirement for captive elephants. In her entire life at the Manila Zoo, Mali has never received proper foot care. Simply cleaning and disinfecting her enclosure—even if it is done daily—will not prevent infection or problems. Allowing Mali to walk on diverse terrain and natural substrate, not concrete, will improve the health of her feet and joints.

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Mali will be sedated during transport.

Fact: PETA has never suggested that Mali will be sedated.

Experts recommend that elephants not be given sedatives during transport. In the "Guidelines for Transport and Preparation for Shipment of Live Wild Animals and Plants," the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species states that sedation is not advised since animals who are in a lethargic state may be more vulnerable to injury should shifting of a truck or turbulence in flight occur. The key to ensuring that Mali's transport is as stress-free as possible is proper training well in advance of the move, not the use of sedatives.

What the Manila Zoo is saying: Mali's fate is not certain at a sanctuary.

Fact: The only thing certain about Mali's fate at the zoo is that she will continue to suffer.

What is certain is this: Experts have already documented that Mali's health is at risk and that she's in pain. The zoo veterinarians lack expertise in caring for elephants and have failed to address Mali's health problems. At a sanctuary, Mali will be able to choose how she spends her days and with whom she spends them. She will start out with a 5-acre pen (she currently has about one-20th of this space) with hills, a pond, and elephants around her (separated by a fence) whom she can interact with if she chooses. After she gains confidence and learns from the other elephants, she will have 500 acres to play in and interaction with animals of her own kind.