Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe paid his first visit to New Zealand today and made a trip to Auckland Zoo amid an international stoush over an elephant.

While Wickremesinghe was hosted by Sir Don McKinnon at the zoo, animal advocacy organisation SAFE urged New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to reject the promised 'gift' of an elephant from the Sri Lankan government.

Auckland Zoo currently house elderly elephant Burma, plus another elephant from Sri Lanka, Anjalee, who arrived amongst heavy criticism internationally.

New Zealand was 'gifted' an additional elephant, Nandi, earlier this year, who, it is planned, will join them. Auckland Zoo plans to start a breeding programme, at a cost of millions of dollars to rate payers.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesing and Sir Don McKinnon get up close and personal with Auckland Zoo's elephants.

Leading animal welfare advocates in Sri Lanka also oppose the move, with legal action taken by organisations in Sri Lanka, who have petitioned the Court of Appeal in an attempt to keep Nandi in the country. The appeal will be heard on October 21.

During the visit to Auckland Zoo, Wickremesinghe appeared baffled when he was shown a giant Weta crawling up zoo keeper Julie Underwood's arm.

Meanwhile, New Zealand is going to open a High Commission in Sri Lanka next year, to cement ties and increase business between the two countries.

Prime Minister John Key made the announcement after meeting with his Sri Lanka counterpart at Government House today.

"Sri Lanka has embarked on a courageous course to rebuild the country after a generation-long civil war, and we are keen to support that process both politically and by growing our strong economic relationship," Key said.

"Establishing High Commissions in Wellington and Colombo in the next few years will help support that process."