Philippine’s beloved elephant, Maali, should stay in our country Maali’s home is here, Maali’s heart is here PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 July 2013 00:00

(If you have been to Manila Zoo, I am sure you have seen an elephant there. She is Maali, the only one live elephant in the Philippines, and unfortunately, PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) is petitioning to move (“free”) her to Thailand. Here’s a write up by Kathy Chua-Grimme why Maali should stay in our country.)

Three reasons why Maali should stay and if she’s forced to go, why they should start by helping here.

This is the only life Maali has ever known, and she’s surrounded by people who love her. With the right enrichment programs, it is possible to keep her happy in Manila Zoo. Moving her to a sanctuary will not guarantee her happiness. She was bullied by other elephants when she was younger and may still be bearing psychological scars from those encounters.

While it is true that most elephants are herd animals, they can also form bonds with non-elephants. They’ve been known to also be attached to their mahoots (caregivers) and pine away when separated. Elephants have their own personalities, histories and quirks making them as diversely unique as people. She loves the interaction and socialization she gets from meeting zoo visitors – it has been an integral part of her life. Other animals have been “freed” and have died miserably because people refused to look at them as individuals and instead boxed them in with the stereotypes of their wild counterparts.

She’s old and may not survive the move.
Maali is 38 years old, the average lifespan of an Asian elephant in a zoo 41 years. In the twilight of her life, is it right to still rip her away from everything she knows and force her to undergo unfamiliar, uncertain and even frightening experiences? She hates trucks and would exhibit signs of stress each time she sees or hears one. The last time she traveled was over 30 years ago when she moved from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka to the Manila Zoo. She was just a calf and was easily crated. Any move now will entail a long and arduous process which includes sedation, confinement and isolation.

Most people die wishing to be surrounded by their loved ones – why should it be any different for her?

Extraditing her to an executioner. The Thai elephant importations are stringent for a very good reason. They are trying to protect their endemic herds of elephants. If what the activists of PETA claims are true – that Maali is sick – then she’ll never pass the quarantine requirements and she will be destroyed (killed). They know this because they also have a copy of the quarantine requirements. (PETA) An organization that is known for having absolutely no qualms about euthanizing perfectly healthy dogs and cats will most likely have the same regard for an aging, ailing elephant.
Even if Maali wasn't sick, the regulations stipulate that the elephant being imported should not come from a country that has rampant cases of rabies, tuberculosis, and other such diseases. Sadly, the Philippines have its fair share of these illnesses. The organization behind her move has repeatedly expressed that they will shoulder all costs to transfer her there, but will they transfer her back if she fails the quarantine requirements?

Back Stories
There are many back stories behind this bid to move Maali to a “sanctuary” in Thailand. One of them is the closure of Manila Zoo. Sitting on prime property – I’m sure this 5.5 hectare plot of land in Malate, Manila has caught the eye of many real estate developers. This interest group paired with a left-wing animal rights group means that the zoo’s future may be in great peril.
The proponent of this move is a staunch advocate of euthanizing surplus and rescued animals as well as closing zoos around the world. They seem to think that if they take Maali away, the zoo will be easy to close. It’s no secret that they’d rather see an animal dead than in captivity, even when it is completely possible to make animals content through good environmental and behavioral enrichment programs.

Manila Zoo is not really a zoo in a sense that zoos acquire new animals for display and charge exorbitant entrance fees for its upkeep and improvement. With exception of the two oldest residents at the zoo, every single animal there is a rescued animal. Many of them have been donated by people who have grown tired of them, the more exotic ones usually have pending court cases. It’s a sanctuary for animals who would have otherwise had no place or chance of survival in the wild.

The zoo is subsidized by Manila City Government so that we too would have a lush haven in this concrete jungle called Manila. It is one of our last remaining parks – and is a important educational center, especially for underprivileged families. Will we resign our children to growing up in malls because we’ve let foreign and commercial organizations take away our parks? Where will the rescued animals go if Manila Zoo closes?

The organization gathering support for her move, collects signatures mostly from people who have never met her. And the few who have, spend a few minutes trying to capture an image that will support a preconceived judgment of her life. They've already made up their minds before meeting her – where’s the fairness in that?

If organizations are lobbying to move her to where they think her life may be better, why not start by making her life better here? They can use some of the funds they've raised to help with her enrichment programs and training. If the move is inevitable, then helping her here and now with those two programs will allow her to better transition to the proposed location. Help the zoo fix her enclosure so it’s as close to the feel of sanctuary as possible.

The organization behind all this will make her their martyr whether she lives or dies. Maali deserves more than just to be a group’s publicity stunt. Before jumping on the bandwagon, please take the time to get to know her. Not everything written in a press-release is true, especially when its by a group that couldn’t be bothered to spend more than an hour with her before calling up a newspaper to run their story.

Freeing Maali sounds good on paper. The scariest thing in this entire controversy is exactly that some groups are more concerned about press and publicity than they actually are about Maali’s welfare. To them, moving her may be a great achievement – but hopefully not at the expense of her happiness or her life. Visit Maali’s Facebook account – We Love Maali and like it.

By Dante Corteza