PETA: Free Mali

DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda - The Philippine Star

Elephants are socially developed mammals. According to Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, DVM, PhD, female elephants roam in family herds of up to 20 members in the wild, constantly being in contact with each other. That’s why it is quite impossible to give sufficient standards for such demanding animals like the elephants in the zoo. There are evidences that the elephants’ welfare is greatly compromised in captive environments. Elephants suffer from foot diseases due to poor hygiene, limited mobility and non-yielding surface of concrete material. Aside from poor physical health, female elephants can develop mental health problems because it is deprived to interact with others in the wild.

This is the reason why the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Philippines has continuously and passionately rallied its cause of liberating Mali. I’m sure you have seen and heard the news about Mali, the lonely female elephant at the Manila Zoo.

Mali has spent about 35 years in her small den — with 33 of those years without another elephant for a companion. Mali is suffering from severe foot problems including cracked foot pads, cracked nails and overgrown cuticles which indicate that the elephant does not receive proper veterinary care at the zoo. There are also clear signs of discomfort in Mali’s legs with her alternating three-legged stance. Dr. Jan observed that hyperextension of the upper front legs is a coping mechanism for Mali to minimize her discomfort and pain by changing the pressure distribution in her feet and joints.

Even if the Manila Zoo conducts a foot-care program for Mali, her foot problem is not totally eradicated because elephants need natural substrate and large areas where they can exercise and roam. The zoo’s concrete floor will only continue to aggravate her feet condition which can get worse as she ages. Foot problems such as infections and arthritis are the primary causes of death among elephants like Mali.

Dr. Mel Richardson who examined Mali was alarmed on how she sleeps while leaning against a wall. In his letter to Donald Manalastas, DVM, Public Relations Bureau of Manila Zoo, he said, “She is clearly tired and trying to get comfortable by pressing her right backside into the corner against the wall. While holding her left forelimb off the ground, pointing it downwards, she redistributes her weight onto her right forelimb and toward her rear legs and butt pressed against the wall. This explains the sores I have seen on her hips which seem to be pressure points over the hip bones.”

Mali is not lying down at least four hours out of every 24 hours. In the wild, elephants lie down not only to sleep but also to rest their joints and feet to allow blood circulation to carry healing oxygen to the tissues of their feet. Dr. Richardson said that when elephants like Mali stop lying down and begin leaning against the walls, it is only a matter of time before she lies down or falls down and cannot get up. This is why he recommends Mali to be transferred to a much safer sanctuary.

According to Rochelle Regodon, campaign manager of PETA Asia, their organization has already secured a home for Mali in a sanctuary in Thailand where “she can enjoy acres of land on which to roam, ponds to bathe in, fresh vegetation, foraging opportunities and the company of many other elephants — all while she is being cared for by elephant experts.” The transfer will not cost taxpayers even a peso in his pocket. PETA has found a sponsor who agreed to cover all the costs. So what’s hindering for Mali to be transferred to Thailand?

PETA has received overwhelming support in its campaign to free the ailing elephant. More than 50 international animal welfare and conservation organizations like the Humane Society International, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the International Veterinary Society are asking for Mali’s immediate transfer. Mali has also received support from local NGOs including the Earth Island Institute, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, the Philippine Foundation for Science and Technology and the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, Inc. In his letter to PETA, Most Rev. Jose Palma, Archbishop of Cebu and president of the CBCP, states, “Mali might have few years to live but these remaining years will be more expressive of man’s compassion towards other God’s creatures.”

I agree with Bishop Palma. There is a famous saying that “the purity of a person’s heart can be quickly measured by how they regard animals.” I think it’s about time for Mali to be freed and to enjoy the habitat where she really belongs.


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