Platypus diplomacy: animal gifts in international relations

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Cushing, N & Markwell, K 2009, 'Platypus diplomacy: animal gifts in international relations', Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 255-271.

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Making use of government archives, media coverage and family biography, this paper examines a little studied aspect of human-animal relations: the use of live native fauna as gifts for diplomatic purposes. Gifts of platypuses from the Australian government to their British and American allies in 1943 and 1947 reflect the status then enjoyed by iconic Australian fauna as a resource to be exploited in the national interest. The great scientific and popular interest generated by the platypus's distinctive characteristics imbued these animals with the cachet required to serve as a powerful statement of international goodwill. However, these same qualities made the platypus difficult to keep in captivity and its export a great challenge. This article examines the motives for platypus diplomacy, the process through which it was conducted and its significance for human-animal relations in Australia. Subsequent legislation has increased the protection of the platypus such that no further platypus diplomacy has been attempted and none have been exported for half a century. The use of the platypus to enhance Australia's standing with other nations marked a transitional stage in the evolution of attitudes to Australian native fauna.

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