Subic park wants Mali the elephant

Amid the tug-of-war between Manila Zoo and animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) over the country's lone elephant Mali (full name: Vishwa Maali), a private local zoo operator in Subic has proposed a noteworthy compromise.

Zoomanity Group, operator of Zoobic Safari in Subic and Zoocobia Fun Zoo in Clark, has proposed the elephant's permanent transfer to the Forest Adventure Park in Subic Bay Freeport, said Evy Raquion, head of the firm's advertising and promotions division.

"We are proposing Mali's transfer to Ilanin Forest,” she told GMA News Online by phone, referring to a part of the Forest Adventure Park. “Open area ito, maraming puno at natural talaga ang setting.”

She said a motte would be built to protect Mali as well as the tourists who would come to witness the country's one and only elephant.

Manila Zoo vs. PETA

The proposal came after Manila Zoo refused PETA's proposal to transfer Mali to a sanctuary in Thailand.

Newly appointed Manila Parks and Recreation Bureau Director James Albert Dichavez had earlier said that Manila Zoo remains firm on its stand against the transfer.

A number of celebrities, both local and foreign, including rock icon Paul McCartney, have called on the Philippine government to transfer Mali to the sanctuary in Thailand.

But according to Dichavez, with Mali's age of 39 years, its chances of surviving the trip to Thailand are low. He said there is also the possibility that Mali won't be able to assimilate well back into the wild.

PETA called for Mali's transfer to a sanctuary in Thailand amid its worsening foot ailment and alleged lack of care by zookeepers.

Raquion, in pushing for Mali's transfer to Subic, meanwhile said not only will the travel be shorter compared to the trip to Thailand, but the location itself will benefit the animal.

Not for sale

However, in a separate phone interview, Dichavez stressed that "Mali is not for sale" and that it belongs to the Manila Zoo.

"Matagal na nilang proposal 'yan, even before ako nakaupo sa posisyon," he said. "But Mali is the center of attraction of Manila Zoo."

Dichavez said a new environment may cause stress to the animal. "Actually, after ma-expand 'yung enclosure ni Mali, it took her four months para makatapak sa kanyang enclosure," he said.

He also noted the management's plan to renovate the zoo to improve not only Mali's enclosure but of the entire zoo as well.

The enclosures will be renovated to pattern after Singapore Zoo "for closer interaction with the animals, pero safer pa rin," Dichavez said.

"We will modernize the enclosures, we will use less bars," he added.

As for Mali's enclosure, "(B)abaguhin ang recreational items like more trees and gagawing hard soil, lupa, instead of cement," he said.

Temporary transfer

Raquion said Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has allowed the transfer of Mali — but only temporarily — when the major renovation of the zoo starts.

"Ang proposal namin is for the permanent transfer but Mayor Erap only allowed a temporary (transfer)," she said.

Dichavez said they are considering not only the temporary transfer of Mali, but of all the other animals as well when the renovation starts.

"We are just considering it, but there is no final decision yet," he said.

He said the transfer may not happen soon. "Wala pang timeline for the renovation, it may not even happen this year."

He added that they would first need to study if the animals will survive the travel, and if there is enough space for all 746 of their animals at the Subic zoo.

For now, Manila Zoo hosts 121 mammals, 268 avians, 324 reptiles, and 33 marine species, Dichavez noted.

Phase-by-phase renovation

Another option is renovating the zoo "phase-by-phase" so the animals will just be moved to a part of the zoo that is not being renovated, Dichavez said.

"We will renovate the zoo phase by phase para within the zoo lang ita-transfer ang mga ito (animals)," he said.

"Ayaw rin naman natin ma-stress ang mga animals with the travel all the way to Subic so as much as possible, kung pwede namang hindi sila ilipat, gagawin," he added.

For now, Manila Zoo authorities are still waiting for the budget for the renovation.

"Sinabi na sa'kin ni Mayor na depleted pa ang kaban ng Maynila," he said.

He said talks are ongoing for a public-private partnership program between the Manila government and Singaporean investors, who would spend P2 billion for the renovation. — KBK, GMA News

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