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(Updated 3:50 p.m.) Four days before his concert in Manila, former The Smiths frontman Morrissey sent a letter to President Benigno Aquino III, urging him to send Manila Zoo's Asian elephant Mali to a sanctuary.
"On behalf of PETA Asia, I ask that you send Mali to a sanctuary, where she would have room to roam and be able to be among other members of her own species," wrote Morrissey, who is set to perform at the World Trade Center in Pasay City on May 13.
In the letter, Morrissey said Mali suffers from extreme loneliness, boredom and isolation. Named Vishwamali, the elephant was born in Sri Lanka in 1974. She was brought to Manila Zoo when she was three years old, and has lived in an enclosure since then.
"Mali's enclosure at the zoo is a fraction of the size that her natural habitat would be. A sanctuary would give her the opportunity for enrichment and companionship that she has been denied for many years," wrote Morrissey on behalf of Manila-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia.
"Mali is cruelly denied stimulation, room to explore, and everything else that is natural and important to her," added Morrissey. "She circles her little patch of concrete, tracing the same route again and again and again. This kind of obsessive, repetitive behavior—known as 'zoochosis'—suggests that Mali is in danger of going insane, so time is of the essence," he said.
In Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it is now evaluating the request.
“According to the Office of the Executive Secretary, it received the letter today and it is being evaluated,” Valte said in a text message.
A report by PETA explained that female elephants spend virtually all their time socializing in the company of other elephants, where they can nurture their young and share experiences.
Morrissey also said in the letter that elephants are intelligent animals with complex social lives. In the wild, female elephants like Mali roam up to 80 kilometers every day with other elephants, including their mothers, with whom they spend their entire lives.
The PETA report noted that roaming great distances is essential to the well-being of elephants. "Asian elephants have home ranges of between 25,000 and 60,000 hectares, but the entire Manila Zoo measures only 5.5 hectares," the report said.
In Manila Zoo, Mali is the only captive elephant.
"Around the world, zoos are recognizing that the needs of many species – especially elephants – simply cannot be met within the confines of their limited facilities. Please take immediate action and transfer Mali to a sanctuary," Morrissey asked Aquino.
According to PETA, Mali needs to be retired without delay. "The Manila Zoo should follow the progressive lead of zoos in the UK and the US that have already closed their elephant exhibits," said PETA, noting that The Elephant Sanctuary in the US can provide vast roaming spaces, ponds to bathe in, fresh vegetation, foraging activities, and the company of other elephants.
"The facility understands and has experience with elephants like Mali. They also have a history of healing and restoring quality of life to elephants who have become debilitated by years of captivity," said PETA.
Eighties icon Morrissey is a vegetarian and an animal rights advocate. In 1985, he released an album called "Meat is Murder." – Carmela G. Lapeña and Amita Legaspi/KG/RSJ, GMA News