Camel facts

Finding gifts for heads of state is not easy. Malians can bear witness

For French President Francois Hollande, intervention in Mali brought two rewards: domestic popularity and a pet camel. The camel was reportedly a gift from a grateful local official in Mali for the French troops' role in driving back Islamist militants, and Hollande joked that he would use it to navigate Paris's congested streets. Alas, the camel didn't take to Hollande and the vaccinations and shipping complexities were perhaps deemed too tedious for a badly behaved animal that screeched so loudly when Hollande first tried to pet it, it drowned out the Malian official's speech. Thus Hollande bequeathed the quadruped to a family in Timbuktu. But one man's pet is another's delicious stew, and the caretakers apparently wasted no time in eating it.

Embarrassed Malian officials have promised to replace the camel with a bigger and "better-looking" version. Perhaps that one will be shipped to a French zoo, where it can befriend the two Bengal tigers that were once gifted to Georges Pompidou, as well as Francois Mitterrand's Asian elephant, and the bison given to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

The Malians can take heart from the essentially hit-or-miss nature of the diplomatic art of gifting heads of state. If this camel was ill-tempered, imagine unwrapping a package to find a venomous, flesh-eating lizard inside. In 1990, then US President George Bush Sr became the proud owner of two Komodo dragons presented to him by Indonesia's president. Or consider the fracas over Barack Obama's gift of an iPod to the queen of Britain in 2009 or earlier a collection of 25 DVDs to Gordon Brown, derided in the British press as "a gift about as exciting as a pair of socks" and turned out to be the wrong format to boot. But in all events, remember what they say: don't put a gift camel in the mouth.

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