Leaders gifting live animals uncommon, but not unheard of

  • Oct. 12, 2017 2:30 p.m.

Leaders gifting live animals uncommon, but not unheard of

BERLIN — Turkmenistan’s president brought Russian President Vladimir Putin a very cute present for his 65th birthday — a Central Asian shepherd puppy.

While China is known for practicing “panda diplomacy” — sending indigenous giant pandas to other nations as a symbol of warm diplomatic relations — leaders gifting each other animals is less common. Official gifts do sometimes come with four legs, though not always with the best results. Here’s a look at some recent ones:

l France’s then-President Francois Hollande received a camel from authorities in Mali in 2013 out of appreciation for his sending French troops to intervene against Islamist rebels. The recalcitrant animal made a lot of noise and didn’t seem to like Hollande much, and he decided to leave it with a family to take care of. They may have misunderstood their mission — they slaughtered the animal and made it into stew.

l German Chancellor Angela Merkel was given a chicken for luck during a 2007 visit to Liberia. She posed briefly for awkward photos with the bird, then handed it off to an aide. It never made it back to Berlin, and ended up living at the German embassy in Liberia.

l Then-Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov gave then-U.S. President George W. Bush a 2-month-old sheepdog named “Balkan of Gorannadraganov” in 2005. Valued at $430 at the time, “Balkan,” as the black-and-white pup became known, was over the limit for gifts from foreign officials but clearly couldn’t be stored in the National Archives like other valuable presents. In the end, the Bushes bought the dog from the U.S. Treasury as allowed by the rules. They considered keeping him at their ranch in Texas but feared he might not adapt well to the heat, so they re-gifted him to a friend with a farm in Maryland.

l Five years later, Putin got a Bulgarian sheepdog of his own from Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. He called the 10-week-old puppy Buffy after holding a nationwide naming competition won by a 5-year-old boy. Putin has also received an Akita named Yume from a Japanese provincial governor, and a black Labrador named Konnie, who died in 2014, from a Russian official.

l In 2010, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe backed down at the last minute on a plan to create a latter-day Noah’s Ark by sending pairs of rare animals to a zoo in North Korea, after an international outcry from conservation groups. Teams had already been rounding up the giraffes, zebras, elephants and other animals from a national park before the plan was scrapped. Mugabe himself received four camels as a gift from former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, but was unimpressed, later saying that while Gadhafi made huge investments in the West, “he made the undertaking on investing in Africa, but we saw him dishing out camels and we got four, which are at the farm.”

l And then there’s Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. A recent exhibit at Buckingham Palace listed all the animals she has received during her 65-year reign. Many have been horses, some of which she has ridden or used as carriage animals. In most other cases, the animals were sent to zoos or nature reserves. They include two trumpeter swans from British Columbia in Canada, two pygmy hippos from Liberia; four cockatoos, two wallabies and one dwarf cassowary from Taronga Zoo in Sydney; one sloth and two jaguars from the Prefect of Brasilia; and one white Nguni bull from King of Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu of the Zulus during a visit to South Africa, where it remained.

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