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  • Context (TH): Malaysia, the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, is aiming to improve its environmental image by putting forward the “orangutan diplomacy.

What is Animal Diplomacy?

  • Animal diplomacy involves giving or lending animals as a sign of friendship or goodwill between countries. These creatures possess cultural significance or are indigenous to the country that gifts them, hence making them influential instruments for diplomacy.

History of animal diplomacy

  • During the middle ages and renaissance periods, European kings frequently exchanged animals such as lions and tigers in order to show their authority over nature.
  • In the 14th and 15th centuries, ancient Egyptian rulers’ gift of giraffes reached as far as Samarkand. In 1827, Muhammad Ali Pasha sent a female giraffe to King Charles X of France, dubbed “la belle africaine.”

Examples of animal diplomacy in recent times

  • Panda diplomacy of China: China first offered bears as diplomatic gifts as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618–907). By 1980s, panda diplomacy had changed.
    • The bears were no longer presented as gifts but instead were loaned for 10 years for a fee of around $1 million per year, a period that could be extended. This shift to panda lending allowed China to keep promoting its image abroad and also build trust.
  • Orangutan diplomacy in Malaysia: This strategy aims to enhance Malaysia’s image by making it a champion of various aspects of wild animal protection. It wants to encourage the sustainable production of palm oil and work jointly with other countries to save orangutans.
  • Elephant diplomacy in Asia: Elephants are given the highest recognition levels in Asia for their wisdom, strength, and good luck. India has gifted elephants to over 20 countries. Similarly, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka have also used elephants for soft-power diplomacy.
  • Koala diplomacy of Australia: To commemorate 50 years of diplomatic ties, Australia loaned four koalas, Paddle, Pellita, Chan, and Idalia, to the Singapore Zoo.

Significance of Animal diplomacy

  • Cultural Exchange and Symbolism: Sharing or gifting animals can promote understanding and appreciation of different cultures.
  • Soft Power Projection: Animal diplomacy is a means for countries to project soft power and enhance their global influence by leveraging the appeal of charismatic wildlife. E.g. Australia’s “Koala Diplomacy” initiative promotes Australian culture and wildlife conservation.
  • Environmental Diplomacy: Collaborative efforts to protect endangered species or preserve habitats can build trust and facilitate cooperation between nations. E.g., an agreement between Russia and China to protect the endangered Siberian tiger.
  • Public Diplomacy and Engagement: Events such as animal adoptions, wildlife exhibitions, or conservation partnerships can engage citizens both domestically and internationally. USA’s “Bald Eagle Diplomacy” promote American values of freedom and environmental stewardship.
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