Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Elephant-for-giraffe swap caused Mexican stand-off between Dublin and Delhi

The Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs was locked in elephantine bureaucracy as it tried to bring Indian elephants to Dublin in 1981.

The problem was a proposed animal swap between Dublin and Delhi Zoos in which the Indians would send us two elephants and we would give them two giraffes.

State papers to be released next week show that for a few months in 1980 and 1981, the department was involved in a Mexican stand-off over the elephants.

Letters show the arrangement quickly became bogged down in red tape.

Dublin Zoo said it would be unable to send giraffes until 1982, while Delhi said it could not send the elephants until the giraffes had arrived safely.

There was also a disagreement over who should bring the giraffes to Delhi.

The row reached the office of the secretary of the department in October 1980, when Daniel Mulhall, an official at the Irish Embassy in Delhi, wrote home to update the then minister Michael O'Kennedy of the latest situation.

"The zoo director [in Delhi] is against shipping the elephant now due to the advent of winter and suggests waiting until spring by which time the 'infant' will be a strapping 600 kilos and 5 and a half feet to boot", Mr Mulhall informed the minister's secretary.

Mr Mulhall, who has since gone on to be Ireland's ambassador to Germany, suggested it would be very difficult for Delhi to "get its hands on enough foreign exchange (not to mention government permission) to enable it to send someone to accompany the giraffes".

Dublin Zoo was unable to say whether the arrangement ever went ahead.

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