- Publish Date
- Thursday, 25 February 2016, 8:07AM
Sri Lanka gave visiting Prime Minister John Key a baby elephant on Wednesday, sparking anger from animal rights activists who said it was cruel to separate it from its family.
President Maithripala Sirisena presented a deed of ownership for 5-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 past 12 months after baby Anjalee was given to Auckland Zoo.
"The first elephant has gained 700kg 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 a good time as well in New Zealand."
Sri Lanka has a long history of giving elephants as presents. It has given three to China and two each to 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, told AFP. "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 east of Colombo.
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 will soon fly to Auckland, where mean annual temperatures of around 15C may come as a shock to a calf more used to the tropical 27C in Sri Lanka.
Vets visited her recently to prepare her for the journey, a top local zoological official said.