Monday, 27 May 2013


Now that former President Joseph Estrada is now the Mayor of Manila, 
I hope he will fulfill his promise of sending Mali to the sanctuary in Thailand.
Below is my latest article on Mali.

            A better life for Mali.

            That’s the claim that has fueled the tug war between Manila officials and the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

            PETA wants Mali transferred to the Boon Lott Elephant Sanctuary in Northern Thailand where she will have hundreds of acres of land to roam, other elephants to play and bond with, and lots of natural stimulation for her mental, physical and emotional health.

            Public support for the PETA proposal is increasing. Frequent media coverage has made the Filipino public aware of Mali’s plight. The list of legislators, politicians, church leaders, prominent personalities and even international experts and famous animal activists all demanding Mali’s transfer to BLES has grown in the last few months. 

Manila zoo officials, on the other hand, want Mali to remain in the zoo, alone and miserable, sans the expert care and proper conditions she needs for her physical health and sans the company of other elephants that she needs to lead a normal life.

            Zoo officials, with the obstinate and misguided support of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, claim Mali will have a better life if she remains in Manila because she grew up here and this is the only life she knows.

            They also claim that Mali will be sedated during her flight to BLES and this could kill her.

  But according to CITES regulations, elephants cannot be sedated during trips except in extreme circumstances to prevent injury to the animal or to the  people around her. Sedation is not advised because animals in a lethargic state may be more vulnerable to injury during the trip.

           In March 2011, US Association of Zoos and Aquariums set up standards for elephant management and care . By 2016, all zoos with elephants must keep a minimum of three female elephants. Zoos which do not follow this must transfer their elephants to other zoos.

          For elephants, their herd is everything. Females stay with their families for lifei and males stay until their early teens. They need to be in the company of elephants.

          In the Upper House, at least four legislators – Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Chiz Escudero, Manny Villar and Lito Lapid – have each filed resolutions to facilitate Mali’s transfer to BLES and assess the situation of animals in zoos and sanctuaries all over the country. Some of the resolutions are also asking for an assessment of animal welfare enforcement in the country.


           For centuries, elephants have been flown from Africa and Asia to zoos all over the world. Circus elephants have travelled by train and truck from city to city. Long-distance travel for this giant creatures is never easy, specially if the destination is a place that is so different from their home environment. But through the years, elephant experts have developed a protocol to facilitate the transfer of elephants to faraway destinations and minimize their stress during the trip.

          According to PETA’s proposal for Mali’s transfer, several steps have to be taken to prepare her for the trip.
     Travel Training

         Mali must learn to allow veterinarians to take blood samples and care for her feet. This is important because early diagnosis of diseases can save an elephant’s life. The blood chemistry results are needed for the travel permits.

            A method called “protected contact” will allow a vet to get the samples
            Without using ropes, chains and bullhooks. These were used to train and
punish stubborn elephants before but are now unacceptable by today’s
standards. Only metal screens, bars and restraint chutes separate the animals from their handlers. Positive reinforcement has replaced punishment in elephant management.

To allow the application of “protected contact”, Mali’s enclosure at the Manila zoo will have to be modified. The daily training for Mali’s foot care  will take one to three weeks while training for blood work will need a few more months. Everything will depend on Mali’s cooperation.

2.     Travel Permits

Mali will also need a travel permits from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The export permit will come from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) which is the CITES authority in the Philippines. The CITES authority from Thailand will also have to issue an import permit and determine the appropriate quarantine procedures.

3.     Transport Crates

Elephants always travel in specially designed crates that have to be
Approved by and the International Air Transport Association. The crate will measure 7.5 ft x 12 ft x 18 ft on the outside and 6.5 ft x 10 ft x 17 ft on the inside. The team that will accompany Mali will have three feet of space from where they can monitor her during the flight. PETA will either borrow a crate from a cargo company or have one built for Mali. Training to enter the crate will take more or less a month.

A crane will lift the crate onto a flatbed truck for the trip to the airport.

4.     Travel Companions

PETA has arranged for an elephant expert to accompany Mali to BLES. This person will come months before the trip to help train Mali and bond with her. An expert in transporting elephants and one person from the Manila zoo will also be on Mali’s travel team.

An air logistics expert will be consulted to make minimize the stress for Mali.

5.     The Trip

From Manila Zoo, the trip to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport
will take about 30 minutes. Loading her onto the cargo plane via conveyor belt will take another hour. PETA will commission the truck and plane. Only a C-17 or a front-loading Boeing 747 can fly an elephant.

The trip to Sukhothai airport in Thailand will last four hours and the trip to BLES may take one to two hours. All in all, Mali will be traveling a total of 9.5 hours.


            BLES is a 400-acre land in Sukhothai, northern Thailand that is home to 14 elephants rescued from abusive owners and retired from heavy work like carrying logs.  It was set up in April 2006 by Katherine Connor, a former London-based retail manager who traveled to several countries in Asia and ended up falling in love with a baby elephant named Boon Lott. The baby elephant was prone to accidents and eventually died. But Katherine was marked for life. She raised money to buy land and set up a sanctuary, eventually marrying Anon, a mahout she had befriended while she was caring for Boon Lott at an elephant hospital.

            The sanctuary has banana plantations, grasslands, open fields, rivers and all types of fruit trees. The elephants there are not used for profit and never forced to perform. All they do everyday is play, roam, forage, swim and bond.

            Captive elephants often suffer from foot infections and arthritis due to the hard concrete surface of their living quarters in zoos. Their tails often get infected after repetitively hitting concrete walls and metal barriers.They need natural substrates and large areas so they can exercise and roam and bond. Elephants roam up to 50 kms a day.

            The BLES caretakers are confident that Mali will integrate well with the other resident Asian elephants. For the first six months, Mali will have 5 acres to herself while acclimatizing to her new home. She will have a huge bathing pond. Although the area will be fenced, she can already interact with the other elephants. They will wait till Mali is ready to join the herd. A webcam will be set up so Filipinos can watch Mali’s progress.

Filipinos can learn much more about elephants by observing Mali in her new home than watching her Mali in the artificial zoo environment.
Wildlife experts agree that elephants are extremely intelligent and curious animals with complex social lives. They think, decide and act, very much like people.

After spending 36 years of her life in Manila zoo, Mali may experience confusion and stress for the first few months. But the excitement of a new life, stimulation from her natural surroundings, the company of members of her kind as well the care she will getting from her caretakers will see her through this period.


Securing Mali in the crate and loading onto truck –             1 hr
Ground transport from zoo to Manila airport –                   0.5 hr
Loading crate onto aircraft –                                             1 hr
Flight time from Manila to Sukhothai airport –                    4 hrs
Unloading from aircraft and customs clearance –               1.5 hrs
Transport to sanctuary –                                                   1 hr
Unloading from truck to sanctuary –                                  0.5 hr

Total –                                                                             9.5 hrs


Zoos that have closed or are closing their elephant exhibits

All zoos in India
Alaska Zoo, US
Bristol Zoo, UK
Bronx Zoo, US
Chehaw Wild Animal Park, US
Detroit Zoo, US
Dudley Zoo, UK
Edinburgh Zoo, UK
Frank Buck Zoo, US
Gladys Porter Zoo, US
Greater Vancouver Zoo, Canada
Henry Vilas Zoo, US
Lincoln Park Zoo, US
Lion Country Safari, US
London Zoo, UK
Longleat Safari Park, UK
Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo, US
Mesker Park Zoo, US
Philadelphia Zoo, US
Sacramento Zoo, US
San Francisco Zoo, US
Santa Barbara Zoo, US

Published in ANIMALSCENE magazine April 2013

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

NEW HOPE FOR MALI, Manila Zoo's Lonely Elephant

MARCH 2013


                                    By Khrysta Imperial Rara

It’s women’s month, and while enlightened members of the female sex celebrate liberties and rights they have won over the last 100 years, a female elephant still awaits freedom from her concrete prison in Manila zoo.

Mali the elephant suffers from loneliness and cracks on her nails and feet pads, a condition that, in an advanced state, causes so much pain. Incurable foot infection is one of the main reasons that elephants are euthanized, wildlife veterinarian and elephant expert Dr. Henry Richardson said after he inspected Mali in May 2012.

Now 38, Mali has been living alone for more than 30 years. Experts say this is cruel since elephants are social animals.

Despite a presidential directive issued last May 2012 ordering Mali’s transfer to a sanctuary, zoo officials and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim are resisting the move.

But hope looms in the horizon for Mali. The Philippine House Committee on Natural Resources last month approved on first reading a resolution to send Mali to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand where she will be cared for by experts.
“The entire room was packed with people showing support for Mali’s transfer.

Congresswoman Luzviminda C. Ilagan gave an impassioned speech, followed by a presentation from PETA on Mali’s welfare and the importance of the transfer. Of course Manila Zoo officials opposed the transfer, but they were questioned by members of the Committee who were appalled that so little has been done in the eight months since the Presidential directive was issued,” said Rochelle Regodon of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA Asia).

The Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF), the Philippine Foundation for Science and Technology, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Earth Island Institute (EII), Zen Cats, Mother Earth Foundation, and Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (CARA) have also manifested their support for Mali.

Three resolutions pertaining to Mali were actually filed in Congress. Resolution 2530, introduced by Congressman Anthony Rolando Golez, Jr. urged Manila Zoo, the Bureau of Animal Industry and the Committee on Animal Welfare, the Department of Agriculture to process the immediate transfer of Mali to a sanctuary. Resolution 2885, filed by Cong. Rufus Rodriguez and Cong. Maximo Rodriguez, Jr., went even further by urging all relevant agencies, including the City of Manila and the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the DENR to facilitate Mali’s transfer to the Boon Lott’s Elephant sanctuary (BLES) in Thailand.

The last, Resolution 2937 filed by Cong. Luzviminda Ilagan and Cong. Emmi A. de Jesus, urged all these agencies as well as the Office of the President to send Mali to the BLES in Thailand.

“All three resolutions were discussed as one at congress, since all three called for the transfer of Mali,” Rochelle explained.

In the Upper House, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Chiz Escudero are also pushing for the transfer.

More than 30 wildlife vets, elephant experts and advocacy groups from the Philippines and from all over the world have called for Mali’s transfer to BLES. Even Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President and Archbishop of Cebu Jose Palma, D.D. expressed his “ardent wish” for a new life for Mali.

“Mali might have a few years to live but these remaining years will be more expressive of man’s compassion towards God’s other creatures,” he wrote in a statement.

The following are excerpts from letters and statements of support sent by the experts:

Dr. Jane Goodall, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and United Nations’ Messenger of Peace:

“There is nothing more important to an elephant’s emotional and mental health than being with other elephants. Even if Mali were in a sound state physically, keeping her alone in a cramped, barren pen is still ethically indefensible.”

Dr. Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, U.S.A.

“I am certain that if you had had the opportunity, as I have, to witness the emotional lives of wild elephants who are highly intelligent and social animals, you would take immediate action to end Mali’s suffering by transferring her to a sanctuary.”

Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) Asia-Pacific that has consultative status at the Council of Europe and special consultative status with the United Nations:

“Further evidence for the inadequate conditions at zoos for elephants is the high incidence of poor physical health among captive populations. For example, the non-yielding surface of concrete material, poor hygiene and limited ability to move cause frequent foot diseases, making up to 10% of all medical disorders of elephants. In other studies, 50% of assessed zoo elephants had a history of foot diseases or were acutely suffering from them. Keeping a single female elephant in limited space in inadequate captive conditions is also severely damaging to the animal’s mental health.”

Jurgen Schilfarth, Chairman of the European Elephant Group based in Germany:

“Every reputable zoo in the world that houses elephants has a foot care programme, and given how long scientists have known about the importance of this care, it is shocking that the Manila zoo has ignored Mali’s feet for 35 years.”

Julie Woodyer, Campaigns Director, Zoocheck Canada:

“Elephants in captivity need very large enclosures that give them a variety of different ground surfaces, including clean dirt, mulch, sand and probably most importantly, grassy areas and pasture as well as slopes, hills, gullies, scrub, and forest so that they can get enough exercise and mental stimulation. Mali’s enclosure is flat, barren, and made almost entirely of concrete.”

Professor Kendra Ryan, Chairman, International Veterinary Society and President, US Veterinary Education Association:

“The International Veterinary Society and the United States Veterinary Education Association stand ready to launch a social media campaign to advise all tourists from the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America to boycott vacationing or conducting business in the Philippines, until Mali is transferred to the Thailand sanctuary. We ask that you inform the Manila Zoo that we stand ready to publish information that will directly impact the zoo’s revenue, as long as Mali is held in what we consider to be unacceptable housing facilities.”

Brigitte Bardot, President, Fondation Brigitte Bardot:

“President Benigno Simeon Aquino III seems to favor the transfer of Mali to the sanctuary proposed by PETA but the administration is not facilitating the rescue operation even if it is urgent for this elephant who deserves to live under dignified conditions, conditions that would respond to her needs.”

Otara Gunewardene, World Animal Day Ambassador for Sri Lanka:

“In nature, elephants live in extended family groups, which include all their female relatives, for their entire lives. Births in the herd are joyous occasions, deaths are grieved and youngsters are taught life skills by their elders. Study after study shows that captive elephants who are kept in groups exhibit less repetitive and stereotypical behavior, a sign that they are less stressed by their imprisonment. But Mali is housed completely alone, and in fact, she has not even seen another elephant in about 33 years.”

Claire Oldfather, Campaigns officer, OneKind :

“Elephants are amongst the most intelligent species of animals in the world. Science has revealed their brain structures to be extremely similar to that of humans in terms of complexity.”

Ravi Corea, President, Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society:

“In the wild, elephants roam vast territories over a variety of substrates, but Mali has little room to walk in her concrete pen. This means that her cuticles have become overgrown and the pads of her feet have become cracked, which could lead to infection if they continue to be left untreated…I urge you to do everything in your influence to ensure that Mali is sent to this sanctuary where she can live out the rest of her life in an environment as close to nature as possible, all while being cared for by experts.”

Kate Townsend, Director, Fairly Wild:

“While England and America acknowledge that elephants are desperately unhappy in captivity and thus it is cruel to keep them in zoos, this is a good opportunity for the Philippines to lead the way for the East. At the moment you are getting bad publicity across the world for your treatment of Mali, and it has been a topic of discussion in South Africa for a while now. I urge you to make the right choice and release Mali to a sanctuary. People from so many countries are waiting to see how Mali’s situation is dealt with. Please make the right choice for Mali and become a leader in the East in terms of your treatment of animals.”

Shih, Chien-An, President, Life Conservationist Association:

“Elephants are highly intelligent and need to be in a social environment. They are the giants of the wild with the largest brain of any land creature. To force these animals for commercial use is inhumane. For this reason, many progressive countries and cities around the world have halted the exhibition of elephants in zoo.”

Tove Reece, Executive Director, Voice for Animals Humane Society, Edmonton:

“It is impossible to look at these solitary elephants and not see the loneliness in their eyes or feel their longing to be with others of their own kind.”

Soonrye Yim, Executive Director, Korea Animal Rights Advocates:

“We are deeply concerned that Mali the elephant has not been acknowledged as a sentient being and is still continuing her life in a brutal living environment.”

Fern Demeo, Elephant Project Coordinator of Animal Aid Abroad, WA:

“As a long-term volunteer at various elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, I have witnessed first-hand the long-standing ill-effects of elephants who have been cruelly kept in captivity. Similarly, I have also witnessed how these elephants’ mental and physical wellbeing improves greatly once they are transferred to these sanctuaries. As an endangered species listed in Appendix 1 of CITES, it is vital that we protect the Asian elephant to ensure that they are not only well cared for, but are also protected in order to ensure continuity of the species.”

Debra Probert, Exec Director, Vancouver Humane Society:

“In 2004, the Vancouver Humane Society was involved in assisting to move a lone elephant named Tina who was kept in a local zoo for 31 years. She was suffering from loneliness, depression, stereotypic behavior such as head-swaying, and infected feet from lack of exercise and an appropriate substrate. Tina went to a sanctuary in the U.S. where she was able to live out the rest of her life with other female elephants in a 2700-acre refuge. It was wonderful to see her bathing in the river, roaming free and communicating with her own kind.

I urge you to do whatever is within your power to expedite the transfer of Mali to a sanctuary where she will be able to experience life as it should be. We in Canada will be waiting to hear that you have chosen to do the right thing.”