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Estrada: Mali not leaving home

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NO CELEBRATION of Manila Zoo’s anniversary would be complete without its main attraction, Mali, who gets up close and personal with people who flock to her enclosure. ARNOLD ALMACEN

Mali is not going anywhere. She is here to stay.

As Manila Zoo marked its 54th anniversary on Thursday, Mayor Joseph Estrada reiterated his earlier pronouncements that he would not allow its most popular resident to be transferred to an elephant sanctuary, a move that, according to a veterinarian, made the “old lady” happy.

The sentiment was reflected in the streamers, placards and letters that were displayed around the zoo as well as expressions of gratitude to Estrada for his decision to keep Mali and plans to upgrade the zoo’s facilities.

“I want to boost tourism in our city so I will not let Mali leave the place she grew up in,” Estrada said in a speech read by Vice Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso.

“Nothing can match the smiles and joy brought to us by animals like a lion, tiger, giraffe, deer and Mali, the famous elephant,” he said.

He added that Mali needed friends, saying: “We will give her companions so that she will not be sad.”

Estrada earlier announced that he was in talks with investors from Singapore who were planning to infuse about P2 billion to modernize Manila Zoo. He said that he had also requested the Sri Lankan government to give the zoo two more elephants once the renovation was completed.

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) and celebrities like Paul McCartney and Morrissey have urged the Philippine government to transfer Mali to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, saying she was sick and lonely.

Other animal activists, however, were not in favor of the Peta proposal.

According to Ken Chua, a veterinarian with the Animal Welfare Coalition, the life span of an elephant in captivity is 42 years and at the age of 39, Mali is already old.

“If Mali left the country, there is a big chance that she will not reach Thailand safely,” she said.

A trip to Thailand would put the old elephant under a lot of stress as she would be placed in a crate, loaded into an aircraft, quarantined and perhaps sedated, Chua added.

“In Mali’s case, sedatives could be fatal and she would undergo quarantine procedures in Thailand,” she said.

“Your decision made an old lady very happy,” Oscar Macenas of the Philippine Veterinary Medical Association said in a message to Estrada.

During a program marking the zoo’s anniversary, three tiger cubs, an elongated tortoise and red-eared slider turtles were presented to the public— the newest additions to the zoo’s residents—including a newborn baby zebra and a recently donated lion cub.

Members of the Autism Society of the Philippines and Photography with a Difference attended the program. They later took pictures of Mali and fed her bananas.

There are more than 700 animals from 104 species living in the zoo which also houses a hippopotamus, monkeys, croco-diles, snakes and various birds.

The new administration under Manila Parks and Recreation Bureau chief and zoo director James Albert Dichaves hopes to surpass last year’s income of P33 million with almost a million visitors.

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