Elizabeth II’s Fantastic Beasts

In 1972, the King of Cameroon presented an African elephant, Jumbo, to Queen Elizabeth. (illustrative photo) Ben STANSALL / AFP

It’s not just corgis in life! During her many official trips from one continent to another, the Queen of England was offered a whole menagerie.

It is an understatement to say that Queen Elizabeth, who died on Thursday August 8 at the age of 96, has seen the country in seventy years of reign. 110, in total, from the far reaches of the Commonwealth to the confetti of Pacific islands, often aboard his yacht, the HMY Britannia . Along the way, during his meetings with the heads of state, it was more than agreed that we offer a present to his majesty. Most often pieces of local crafts, delicacies or flowers. But sometimes the gifts were more out of the ordinary. In terms of the unusual, let’s mention a pearl throne from Nigeria or a model of a 15th century Chinese vessel, which are now part of the royal collection.

The Queen has also been gifted a number of exotic animals, all referenced on the Royal Collection Trust website. Unsurprisingly, there are many horses there, an animal to which the queen was very attached. From 1953, to celebrate her coronation, the queen received several Arabian stallions from the kings of Iraq and Yemen. But one of these steeds will count more than the others: Burmese. This black mare donated by the Mounted Police of Canada will have the honor of being ridden by the Queen during the military parade “Saluting the Colors” from 1969 to 1986. This was the case in 1981, when the Queen escaped from little to an assassination attempt. The horse’s reaction, remaining calm as six blank bullets were fired at them, would later be praised by the royal family. Burmese died in 1990 but has since been regularly cited by the Queen as her favorite horse.

The Queen riding Burmese in the 1986 ‘Salut aux Couleurs’. Wikimedia Commons

Among the most notable offerings were Brands and Aizitatwo jaguars entrusted to him by the prefect of Brasilia in 1968. But also jumbo. In 1972, this African forest elephant was offered to him by the President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo. During the plane trip, the animal is fed avocados, bananas and sugar. When he arrived in England, he weighed 589 kilos. The one who remains to this day the most cumbersome gift ever received by Her Majesty died in 1988 at Whipsnade Zoo.

Let us also mention a pig, received in the Fiji Islands, a Nile crocodile renamed Mansa and offered by Gambia, four cocoa beans, two wallabies, a cassowary from Australia, an Arctic fox, two giant tortoises from the Seychelles and two pygmy hippos from Liberia .

Princess Elizabeth and Philippe visiting Kenya in 1952. INP / INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTOS (INP) / AFP

But what has become of all this menagerie? It was obviously not installed in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, with the exception, therefore, of certain horses which joined the royal stables. The protocol has long wanted these animals to be placed in zoos in the United Kingdom, including those in London (ZSL) and Whipsnade, the largest in the country. But, from the middle of the 1990s, the mentalities evolving, the queen rather decided to leave them in place. The Royal Collection Trust cites the example of a white Nguni, a majestic bovine donated by the King of the Zulu of South Africa in 1995, which was able to end its days in its country of origin.

Giving animals as an offering to sovereigns is a tradition that did not wait for Elizabeth II. In France, the Capetian kings already received bears, lions and jaguars as gifts from foreign courts. These living gifts most often supplied the royal menageries, the ancestors of our zoos.

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