Jawaharlal Nehru sent a baby elephant named after his daughter Indira to Japan in 1949, former President Shankar Dayal Sharma was gifted an African tusker by Zimbabwe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi a Mongolian horse during his visit to that country.
‘Animal diplomacy’ has been an important tool in strengthening relations between countries and the Delhi zoo, battling a spate of animal deaths in the past few months, wants it pursued with renewed zeal.
“Shankar, the African male elephant at the zoo here, is named after former President Shankar Dayal Sharma. The pachyderm was gifted to him by the Zimbabwe government. He gave the animal to us,” Riyaz Khan, the zoo curator said.
The zoo, which attracts lakhs of visitors annually, is in dire need of giraffes, ostrich, zebra, kangaroo, white bucks and other exotic varieties of birds and animals.
“Though animal diplomacy is considered a potent tool in engaging different nations, it also does wonder for the wildlife of the respective countries. The leaders generally donate the animals to the zoos. But of late not many Indian leaders have taken an active interest in this practice,” a zoo official said.
“A case in point is the culling of kangaroos in Australia to reduce its population. Why these can’t be gifted to countries like us?” he asked.
The official said Indian ministers should revive this tradition and not refuse the animals gifted to them by the foreign governments.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was gifted a horse by his Mongolian counterpart Chimediin Saikhanbileg in 2015. The horse, however, could not be brought to the country due to different climatic conditions in the two countries.
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was gifted goats of ‘Nachi’ breed by Pakistan in 2014, so was his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal, who got six buffaloes of ‘Ravi’ breed from across the border.
China has long been known for its ‘panda diplomacy’. Mao Zedong, the legendary Chinese Communist Party leader, used the cuddly pandas as a diplomatic initiative in the 1950s.
Mao Zedong sent pandas across the world on the “diplomatic charm offensive”. The first panda he sent was a gift to Russia for recognising the People’s Republic of China as a country.
The United States received its pandas in 1972 after President Nixon’s historic visit to China resulted in establishment of official diplomatic relations between the two countries. From 1957 to 1982, China gave away 23 pandas to nine countries, all as signs of friendship.