Sri Lanka gave visiting Prime Minister John Key a baby elephant on Wednesday, sparking anger from animal rights activists who said it was cruel to separate it from its family.

Nandi, born at Sri Lanka's oldest elephant sanctuary, is the second bequeathed to New Zealand in the past 12 months after baby Anjalee was given to Auckland Zoo.

But activists urged the government to halt the practice, saying some of the animals had found it difficult to adapt to their new climates and without their families.

Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardana said the government had given away too many, describing the animals as sacred in the mainly Buddhist nation.

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