Henry III received weird gifts from other leaders as ruler of England, with among the most notable being an African elephant from Louis IX of France in 1255. The exchanging of gifts between world leaders at the time was a common practice and thought to be a way to impress one another. Henry III was gifted three lions by Emperor Frederick II in 1235, as well as a camel and King Haakon of Norway gave Henry III a polar bear in 1252. These animals were generally kept on display for the public to view.
More about Henry III:
There's no doubt that these are some very unusual gifts. However, considering that everyone has different traditions, it's not exactly hard to see why it could seem rather strange to the foreign.
The part I found most amusing in the article though, is where it's mentioned that the animal "gifts" didn't last for very long because no one knew how to take care of it.
It seems like this came with some rather humorous and disastrous results. I mean, giving an elephant red wine?
Common sense would say you're not supposed to feed that to any animal. After all, look at how those results turned out. One thing I wonder though, is if these kinds of traditions still happen around the world.
Probably not in the U.S., but after all, even the strangest of traditions can be passed around for years to come.