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Mali, dubbed the 'world's saddest elephant,' dies at Manila Zoo after decades in captivity

Mali, an elephant living in captivity at the Manila Zoo in the Philippines and dubbed by advocates as the "world's saddest elephant," has died at 43 years old, officials announced Wednesday.

An Asian elephant, Mali, whose full name is Vishwa Ma'ali, lived alone at the zoo for decades before her death, which was announced Tuesday by Manila Mayor Honey Lacuna. Mali was the country's only elephant.

Mali arrived at the zoo at 11 months old in 1981 as a gift to the former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos by the Sri Lankan government. At the time, the zoo was also home to another elephant, Shiva, who died in 1990, and Mali remained as the zoo's only elephant since.

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Mali, an elephant that has been in captivity for 45 years, is seen at a zoo converted into a vaccination site on January 19, 2022 in Manila, Philippines.
Mali, an elephant that has been in captivity for 45 years, is seen at a zoo converted into a vaccination site on January 19, 2022 in Manila, Philippines.

Animal rights activists, including the People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have criticized the zoo for Mali's care. The animal rights group worked with Paul McCartney in 2013 to raise awareness for Mali, and McCartney wrote to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to ask for Mali's transfer to a Thai elephant sanctuary.

PETA U.K. wrote in 2013 that the elephant had "intense confinement, loneliness, boredom and isolation in an area that is a miniscule fraction of the size of her natural habitat."

But Mali remained at the Manila Zoo, where she was the main attraction. During 2022, she received many visitors as the zoo was temporarily converted into a vaccination site.

Mali, an elephant that has been in captivity for 45 years, is seen at a zoo converted into a vaccination site on January 19, 2022 in Manila, Philippines.
Mali, an elephant that has been in captivity for 45 years, is seen at a zoo converted into a vaccination site on January 19, 2022 in Manila, Philippines.

BBC News reported she was seen last Friday rubbing her trunk against a wall, indicating she was in pain, the zoo's chief veterinarian Dr. Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo said.

She was lying on her side and breathing heavily by early Tuesday, and although veterinarians gave her antihistamines and vitamins, she died that afternoon. BBC News reported that an autopsy found she had cancer in some of her organs and a blockage in her aorta.

How long do Asian elephants live?

The median life expectancy for Asian elephants is typically around 47 years, according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, which noted the longevity of elephants is not well understood, and most information available comes from African elephants.

There is evidence to suggest that Asian elephants typically live into their mid-50s, but an accurate lifespan estimate is difficult because of the lack of consistent data from wild Asian elephants.

The Smithsonian Zoo said recent data suggests that African elephants rarely live to 50.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'World's saddest elephant' Mali dies at Manila Zoo