Putin turns down Japan's dog gift: 5 types of animal diplomacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his dog Yume, a gift from Japan in 2012, greet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sochi, Russia, on Feb 8, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his dog Yume, a gift from Japan in 2012, greet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Sochi, Russia, on Feb 8, 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly turned down Japan's gift of a dog ahead of a summit on Thursday (Dec 15) and Friday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Mr Putin, who is known to love dogs and other animals, was given a female Akita by Japan in 2012.

The exchange or loan of native animals to foster ties between countries is not a new tradition - in the 1800s, Egyptian leader Muhammad Ali Pasha gave giraffes as gifts to King George IV of England, the emperor of Austria and King Charles X of France.

Here is a look at five types of animal diplomacy.

1. Dog diplomacy

Mr Putin may have turned down Japan's latest four-legged gift, but exchanging canines is somewhat of a norm for the Russian leader.

In 2010, he was given a Bulgarian shepherd puppy by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Mr Putin himself gave then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a three-month-old black terrier in 2012.

The breed was known as "Stalin's dog", as it was bred under the Soviet dictator to be a guard dog for prisoners.

2. Panda diplomacy


River Safari's pandas Kai Kai (right) and Jia Jia. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

In China, who you are does matter when it comes to gifting black and white animals. The fluffy mammals have been used to establish friendships with other nations since the era of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong in the 1960s.

In February 1972, then-US President Richard Nixon's wife Pat told Premier Zhou Enlai about her fondness for giant pandas while on a trip to China.

The Nixons welcomed two pandas - Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, to the Smithsonian's National Zoo two months later.

On home soil, Singapore is host to Kai Kai and Jia Jia, who arrived on Sept 6, 2012, on a 10-year loan from China.

Singaporeans have taken to the pandas, flocking to visit them and getting tickled by the pair's unsuccessful mating attempts.

3. Koala diplomacy


(From left) Australian High Commissioner Philip Green, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Temasek Holdings CEO Ho Ching, and then Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, with one of the koalas on loan to Singapore, on May 20, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

Australia is home to many unique animals, perhaps none more popular than the cuddly koala.

Koala diplomacy is taken seriously Down Under, where a campaign of the same name was launched during the G-20 summit in 2014, when world leaders queued to hold the furry grey animals brought in from a wildlife park.

For SG50 in 2015, Australia loaned four koalas to Singapore for six months. The four marsupials - Chan, Idalia, Paddle and Pellita - were on loan to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. They were flown home in January this year.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said koala diplomacy "portrays Australia in a soft light and promotes our values as an open, free, tolerant democracy".

4. (Komodo) Dragon diplomacy


A Komodo dragon at the Singapore Zoo. PHOTO: SINGAPORE ZOO

Komodo dragons, the largest living lizards, are formidable creatures and would make unique gifts.

That was probably what former Indonesian president Suharto thought when he gifted four Komodo dragons to then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the 1980s.

The lizards, which can grow to 3m-long and weigh more than 100kg, are native to the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores.

In 1990, Mr Suharto also reportedly gave a Komodo Dragon to former US President George H. W. Bush, who donated it to the Cincinnati Zoo.

5. Elephant diplomacy

What's a bigger gesture than giving an elephant to a country to show your respect for it?

In 1953, Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh gave China's Chairman Mao Zedong two Asian elephants as a symbol of friendship between the two countries, adding another in 1960.

Sri Lanka has also gifted the gentle giants to China: In 1972, former prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike bestowed China a baby Asian elephant as a tribute to Chinese children.

SOURCES: AFP, China Daily, International Business Times, Reuters, The Straits Times, The Telegraph, Time