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Philippines: World's 'saddest' elephant dies in Manila zoo

An elephant christened by activists as one of the world's «saddest» has died at a Philippine zoo, where she lived almost all her life alone in a pen.

Tributes have poured in for Mali, who was the star attraction at Manila Zoo for four decades and much beloved.

But the lonely plight of the country's only elephant was a long-running concern for animal rights activists.

One of them was Sir Paul McCartney, who asked authorities to transfer Mali to an elephant sanctuary.

Mali's death on Tuesday was announced in a Facebook video by Manila mayor Honey Lacuna, who said visits to the zoo to see Mali were among her happiest childhood memories.

Last Friday, the Asian elephant was seen constantly rubbing her trunk against a wall, which indicated that she was in pain, the zoo's chief veterinarian Dr Heinrich Patrick Peña-Domingo said.

By early Tuesday, Mali was lying on her side and breathing heavily. Veterinarians administered antihistamines and vitamins but she died later that afternoon. An autopsy found that she had cancer in some of her organs, as well as a blockage in her aorta.

Mali, whose full name is Vishwa Ma'ali, was gifted to former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos by the Sri Lankan government in 1981, when she was 11 months old.Manila Zoo was also home to another elephant, Shiva, who arrived in 1977 and died in 1990. Mali had been the zoo's only elephant since then. At the height of the pandemic, the Manila Zoo also served as a vaccination site for children, where Mali kept them entertained.

Animal rights activists criticised the decrepit conditions at Manila Zoo and said its keepers were ill-equipped to provide Mali with proper medical care. Zoo authorities however argued that the elephant was best kept in captivity as she had not known what life was like in the wild.

In a letter to then President Benigno Aquino III in 2012, Sir Paul described footage he saw of Mali in captivity as «heartbreaking».

«I am writing to add my voice to the many others who are supporting the transfer of Mali, the lonely elephant currently being held at the Manila Zoo, to a sanctuary in Thailand as soon as possible,» he said.

Former Smiths frontman Morrissey made a similar written appeal,