Sri Lanka gave visiting New Zealand Prime Minister John Key a baby elephant yesterday, sparking anger from animal rights activists who said it was cruel to separate her from her family.
President Maithripala Sirisena presented a deed of ownership for five-year-old “Nandi” during a red-carpet welcome in Colombo for Key, who arrived for a two-day official visit.
Nandi, born at Sri Lanka’s oldest elephant sanctuary, is the second bequeathed to New Zealand in the last 12 months after baby “Anjalee” was also gifted to the Auckland Zoo.
“The first elephant has gained 700 kilos (1,540 pounds) in one year,” Key told Sirisena at the ceremony.
“So, it is loving its life in New Zealand and I am sure its friend will have such a good time as well in New Zealand.”
Sri Lanka has a long history of giving elephants as presents, with China gifted three over the years, and two each for Japan, South Korea, the Czech
Republic and the United States.
But activists urged the government to halt the practice, saying some of the animals had found it difficult to adapt to their new climates and without their families.
“We are very disappointed,” Sagarika Rajakarunanayake, head of the Sathva Mithra (Friends of Animals) group, said. “We wrote three weeks ago asking the government to stop this practice. I think they don’t even read our letters.”
Nandi has been raised in a herd of 93 elephants in a coconut grove at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, about
80km (50 miles) east of Colombo.
Local environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardana said the government had given away too many, describing the animals as sacred in the mainly Buddhist nation.
“There should be a stop to these knee-jerk gifts of baby
elephants,” Gunawardana said.
The government said the elephant was given in recognition of “excellent bilateral relations”.
Nandi is soon set to be flown to Auckland, where mean annual temperatures of around 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) may come as a shock to a calf more used to the tropical 27
degree average in Sri Lanka.
New Zealand vets visited her recently to prepare her for the journey, a top local zoological
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