The Interesting Story of Mali, the Philippines' Only Elephant

This is how the Manila Zoo came to be Mali's caretaker.

Mali, the only elephant in the Philippines, is 47 years old. By elephant standards, that’s young, considering they live up to 80. 

In 2017, Mali made headlines after an animal rights group depicted her as the loneliest elephant in the world. It even posted a misleading photo of a sick elephant from Russia and made it look like it was Mali. 

At the time, Mayor Joseph Estrada of Manila said Mali was well taken care of. Apparently, he was right, and transferring Mali to Thailand could even make the elephant depressed. 

More: Mali the Elephant May Not Be as Lonely as You Think

Animal welfare advocate Isa Garchitorena wrote a piece about why sending Mali to Thailand could be harmful to her. 

How Mali the Elephant Came to Manila Zoo

A living elephant costs roughly P80 million, which is why very few zoos are able to keep them. Manila Zoo, which is also Asia’s oldest zoo, adopted Mali 44 years ago when she was only three years old. 

Top Story: At 86, Lucio Tan Named Chairman, President, CEO, and COO of PAL

But Manila Zoo did not buy Mali. In fact, Mali was sent to the care and protection of the Manila Zoo, which, at the time, was one of Asia’s only zoos. 

Mali was sent as a gift by Sri Lanka to the people of Manila after the Sri Lankan government found her orphaned in the wild. The Manila Zoo has successfully raised and kept Mali alive ever since. 

In the video below taken on July 24 by Mayor Isko Moreno of Manila, Mali is seen happily greeting her visitors. 


According to Moreno, Mali is well taken care of. Her caretakers feed her 150 kilograms of grass, vegetables, and fruits. As the Philippines’ only elephant, Mali is monitored 24 hours a day. 

Contrary to previous allegations that Mali is lonely, starving, and living an unhealthy life, the elephant is actually in the pink of health. In 2018, blood tests from the elephant found that Mali is actually quite healthy for her age. In fact, she had been eating a little too much, which was why she was put on a diet. 

Various animal welfare advocates, including the Network for Animals (NFA), are against the keeping of animals in zoos, but the NFA made an exception for Mali. 

“Network for Animals does not approve of zoos, full stop. But we always ask ourselves, what would the animals want? We believe that in this case, the Manila Zoo is the best option for Mali,” said NFA in 2018. 

Recommended Videos

“She has lived [in Manila Zoo] for [over] 40 years, and her keepers love her and she loves them. They are family.”

Mayor Isko Moreno to Improve Manila Zoo

In a Facebook post, Mayor Isko Moreno bared that the local government is about to rehabilitate Manila Zoo. The rehabilitation includes cleaning the zoo and possibly expanding Mali’s enclosure.

Sa nalalapit na pagsasaayos natin sa Manila Zoo, tinitiyak ko po sa inyo na mas lalo pa nating aalagaan si Mali, sampu ng mga hayop dito, upang sa muli nating pagbubukas sa publiko ay masilayan at maranasan natin ang isang malinis, maayos, at world-class na zoo na maipagmamalaki ng bawat Pilipino,” said Moreno. 

(“I assure you that in the redevelopment of Manila Zoo, we will be able to take better care of Mali and ten other animals here so that when the zoo reopens, we’ll have a world-class zoo we can be proud of.”)

More Videos You Can Watch
About The Author
Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor
View Other Articles From Mario
Latest Feed
Load More Articles
Connect With Us