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Maali the Lonely Elephant

Photographer: Dennis M. Sabangan


Maali, a 38 year-old Asian elephant, has been the focus of international campaign aimed at freeing her from the confines of Manila Zoo, where she has spent the last 35 years alone in a concrete enclosure.


Among those pleading for her freedom are Australian writer J.M. Coetzee and British rock artist Morrissey, and pressure is mounting on the Philippine government to release the 7-ton mammal. Morrissey has proposed that Maali should spend the remaining years of her life in an elephant sanctuary in the United States, while Coetzee said she should be released in Thailand.


In 1977, Maali, only 3 years old then, was imported from Sri Lanka and shipped to the Philippines. She was donated to the children of Manila by the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, after her mother was allegedly killed by poachers. Since then, she resides inside a zoo enclosure.


Filipino John Chua, Maali’s mahout for the past 12 years, gave his opinion on relocating the animal, worrying, he says, that the move will alienate and frighten Maali.


He argues that for the past 35 years, Maali has lived in the zoo and has no idea how to look after herself, adding that she’s too old to be transferred. Chua also disregards animal rights advocates that Maali is not being treated well by the zoo management, saying her enclosure has enough greenery and a swimming pool. He pledges that in order to keep Maali, the local government can still make necessary improvements to suit her condition. The name Maali was derived from Thai word, which means the flower Jasmine. Her future remains uncertain.