Manila Zoo: New Face, Same Old Ways

January 1, 2022

I was on Twitter that morning when the news broke. Many have tweeted their excitement, nostalgia, and pride about the City of Manila’s latest accomplishment: the reopening of the zoo of their city after its three-year redevelopment that cost almost P2 billion. 

Manila Zoo, as it was once simply called, is a childhood memory for most of us, myself included. Little did I know, as I grew up to be an animal advocate, this will not be filed under “fondest childhood memories.”

This development rekindled concerns towards the biggest star of the six-decade-old zoo, Mali the elephant.

Mali was a gift from the Sri Lankan government in 1977 to former first lady Imelda Marcos. This is not the first or last time the Marcoses got in on the act of wildlife trade; Calauit Safari Park in Palawan is another, confining animals nonnative to the country such as giraffes, zebra, impala, gazelle, and bushbuck (the last three species are among many that have already died out).

International animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has been campaigning ‘Free Mali’ for years to relocate the 44-year-old giant to a sanctuary in Thailand at the group’s expense. Isko Moreno, the incumbent mayor of the city and presidential aspirant to the upcoming elections, responded to PETA’s appeal that it would now be risky for Mali for she has lived her life in the zoo. The truth of the matter is, many elephants of Mali’s age or even older have been successfully resettled (e.g., the three elephants from Toronto Zoo, Canada transferred to a sanctuary in the US in 2017 and, most recently, Kaavan from Pakistan to Cambodia). Moreno added there are plans to bring in more elephants to address the surface issues of loneliness and boredom.

No matter how beautiful and drastic these changes make for this incarcerating facility we call “zoo”, these do not change the ugly truth that zoos cause animals far more harm than good. Zoos have been instilled in us as an educational facility but captivity breaks the holistic health of these animals, natural behaviors, and psyche disturbed. How can these abnormalities teach anything?

Mayor Isko, at Living Laudato Si’, we have faith in equal care and rights for all living creatures as our crusade to advocate for the Common Home. Redesigning the zoo is not the answer. Bringing more animals that are not endemic to the Philippines is not, either. Let us all live by the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

It’s not too late. Free Mali.

In another news, just this month, Phuket Zoo in Thailand has announced closing its doors and opening windows of retirement for its animals at sanctuary homes. Now that’s what we file under “big victories for both animals and compassionate, kinder people”.

Visit for more information about the campaign.

Vicente Cajilig, Jr. was born on the island of Tablas in Romblon but grew up with his eyes diverted to the mountains and heart towards wildlife. A big pop culture fan, “JR” is a former contributor to a popular online magazine in the country. He is currently the administrative officer of Living Laudato Si Philippines.

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