Aquino’s tainted legacy | Inquirer Opinion
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Aquino’s tainted legacy

/ 12:14 AM June 29, 2016

The Philippines just missed a unique opportunity to shine on the world stage. Benigno S. Aquino III was once respected as a leader of vision and compassion. Yet instead of leaving presidency with an order that Mali, the lonely and ailing elephant at the Manila Zoo, be retired to a sanctuary, he is moving on with Mali still in the same cramped, barren pen she has lived in for the past 40 years.

Aquino’s lack of decisiveness is all the more shameful given the worldwide condemnation of Mali’s plight, including expert opinions from scientists, the scathing international media coverage, the protests, and the backlash from celebrities and even a Nobel Prize laureate. True, Aquino himself issued a directive to give Mali relief, but then he promptly let it die. Just as Mali probably will—inside a small pen in the Manila Zoo.

Mali was just a nursing baby when she was forcibly removed from Sri Lanka in 1977. Her life has been nothing but abject misery ever since. Try to imagine living your whole life in one small room, seeing the same four walls every single day. You would have no friends or companions, nothing to do whatsoever to pass the time or to comfort yourself. You would never get to leave. That’s exactly what life has been like for Mali.


For elephants, family is everything. Births are joyous celebrations; deaths of loved ones are mourned. Youngsters are nurtured in close-knit family units and are taught life skills such as how to use different kinds of leaves and mud to ward off sunburn and insect bites. Females stay with their families for life and males until their pre- or early teens. When Mali was taken, she was just learning how to swim, take baths and find her own food.

Elephants require vast areas in which to roam, and in the wild they are constantly on the move. Yet the entire Manila Zoo measures only slightly more than one-half square kilometer, and Mali’s enclosure is a tiny fraction of that. Confining an elephant to such a restricted environment takes a heavy toll, causing serious foot disorders and arthritis. And being denied everything meaningful is emotionally and mentally devastating.

In a truly heartbreaking display of the impact that the Manila Zoo has had on Mali, she has been observed walking to the edge of her pen and reaching out her foot in the hope of taking one more step. When she realizes that she has reached the end, she steps back and tries again…  and again. Finally realizing that there is nowhere to go, the dejected elephant walks aimlessly around her enclosure, picking debris up off the ground.

At other times, she paces incessantly or merely stands in one spot with her trunk to the ground. It is painfully clear that Mali is profoundly despondent. Her keen mind is a great, blank slate that cannot be filled by anything in the zoo.

Keeping Mali in the Manila Zoo is wrong, but the zoo’s management continues to defend the indefensible. It has no intention of doing what’s best for this ailing, aging elephant. Even though she continues to suffer, the zoo’s objective is to keep everything exactly the way it is today.

A wonderful sanctuary that places the highest priority on animal welfare is waiting with open arms to accept Mali. The sanctuary’s workers have experience in rehabilitating elephants. The sanctuary would allow Mali to forage for fresh vegetation, to swim and take dust baths, and to get the veterinary care and the exercise that she needs.

President Aquino has failed Mali.

Jason Baker is the vice president of international campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) Asia. To get involved with Peta’s work in the Philippines, please visit or call 8175292.


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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, elephant, Mali, Manila Zoo
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