An elephant who has spent his whole life without the company of another has died aged 49.

Vishwamaali has spent more than 40 of his years in Manila Zoo in the Philippines and was better known to locals as Mali. He would be seen greeting families at his enclosure, but was never given the chance to mix with his own kind. He was even dubbed the saddest elephant in the world by PETA, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The animal arrived at the zoo aged just three and was a gift to the then First Lady, Imelda Marcos from the Sri Lankan government in 1977, but Mali's plight as being the only elephant in the country soon drew the attention of animal rights activists, including Sir Paul McCartney, who asked authorities to transfer Mali to an elephant sanctuary.

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

Mali at the zoon in Manila (

Former Smiths frontman Morrissey made a similar written appeal, but Mali remained at Manila Zoo.

PETA paid tribute to Mali, saying: "One of the world's saddest elephants has passed away. Rest in peace, Mali, you deserve so much more."

The elephant was 49 when he died (

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. At a press conference yesterday, Mayor Lacona told reporters that she would ask the Sri Lankan government to donate another elephant to the Philippine capital.

She said Mali's long-time caretakers had been crying over her death, and added that Mali's transfer to a sanctuary was "never considered", given the length of her captivity. "She might seem alone, but she had us beside her. She was the face that greeted everyone who visited Manila Zoo. She is a part of our lives."