Panda Saves the Day: Implementing Panda Diplomacy to Safeguard Diplomatic Animals

  • Dulki Seethawaka Centre for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP), Faculty of Law, University of Colombo
  • Asanka Edirisinghe Centre for Environmental Law and Policy (CELP), Faculty of Law, University of Colombo


Diplomatic animals have been used as a tool to strengthen good will among nations since ancient history. Animal species such as pandas, elephants, koalas, dogs, and various other animals are often gifted within nations. Once the animals are sent as diplomatic animals, the standard practice is such that the sending country has no ownership, claim or responsibility over those animals and does not interfere with any aftermath. These animals are then protected by the animal protection laws and policies in their new residing country.

It is essential that diplomatic animals are provided with the necessary care and facilities which were available for them in their native country. However, there are ample examples where diplomatic animals have been mistreated and neglected. For instance, Kaavan who was once considered the world’s loneliest elephant was sent from Sri Lanka as a diplomatic animal to Pakistan in 1985. He was confined in an enclosure in the Islamabad Zoo together with a female elephant called Saheli. Saheli died in 2012 which deeply affected Kaavan who started showing signs of stress and aggression. As a result, the zookeepers kept him chained in isolation and poor living conditions. Kaavan was later rescued by a global campaign called ‘Free the Wild’ and the Islamabad High Court issued an order to immediately relocate Kaavan. Even though Kaavan was evidently suffering in the Islamabad Zoo from 2012 until he was relocated in a sanctuary in 2020, the government of Sri Lanka did not interfere with the situation since it is not appropriate as per the traditions and normative practice.

On the other hand, as per the concept of Panda Diplomacy all the Pandas in the world are owned by China and they are given to other nations as loans. It not only protects the animals which are directly sent by China, but also any off-springs that are born. The research question is whether panda diplomacy can be utilised to develop an international framework to protect the diplomatic animals against cruelty and mistreatment, mandate both nations to take due care of the animal and ensure its physical and mental well-being.

The research hypothesis is that the concept of panda diplomacy can be used as a framework to continue the duty and the responsibility of a country towards diplomatic animals, and even used as a mechanism to hold the countries liable if they have knowingly mistreated or neglected such diplomatic animals.

Thereby, the research first discusses examples of how diplomatic animals are subject to cruelty and mistreatment and the necessity of imposing the duty of care on both nations which are involved in the diplomatic relations. The in-depth analysis of panda diplomacy is helpful in establishing a responsibility to ensure that such animals are protected with utmost care in their new locations. Thereby, the research suggests to implement an international convention to protect diplomatic animals and provides recommendations as to how to develop such an international legal obligation to prioritise the welfare of diplomatic animals without tarnishing the relations among nations.

How to Cite
SEETHAWAKA, Dulki; EDIRISINGHE, Asanka. Panda Saves the Day: Implementing Panda Diplomacy to Safeguard Diplomatic Animals. Global Journal of Animal Law, [S.l.], v. 11, n. 1, june 2023. ISSN 2341-8168. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 25 june 2024.