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The Day the Fountain Ran Dry: An Indian Duck Tale

As a Foreign Service Officer serving abroad, it is natural to become close friends with the colleagues with whom you share embassy offices; in many cases, they get to be like your family away from home. In the same way, any creatures which happen to be resident in diplomatic spaces become like family pets. As with every family, there are those who like animals and those who do not. It follows that if something happens to those creatures, there is bound to be trouble. Such was the case with the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, where jobs were nearly lost, ducks were kicked and ambassadors were insulted.

Former Ambassador to India William Clark Jr. (1989-1992) recounts the time when resident ducks were forced to depart the premises of the embassy. He was interviewed by Thomas Stern in January 1994.

To read more about diplomats and animals, please see our Moment on a pet evacuation from Kinshasa with the help of the French Foreign Legion, an ambassador’s first tour with monkeys and gerbils, and a cat who almost created a military crisis.


“The ducks had a large fan club in the embassy”

 William Clark, Jr., Ambassador to India, 1989-1992  

CLARK: By the time I arrived in Delhi in December, I had been thoroughly briefed on both the Chancery and the Residence. My first impression was that they looked a little like the Kennedy Center. There were too many ducks in the pond that was in the middle of the Chancery and the fountains didn’t work. The Residence was like many of the ambassadorial homes that we have built: for show–great entertainment areas, but with very inadequate living areas.

As usual, I ran into the “we have always done it that way” syndrome.

For example, I mentioned earlier that the fountains in the pool were not operating. I asked why, only to be told that the medical staff thought they were causing damage to the ducks.

The ducks had a large fan club in the Embassy; they had been residents in the courtyard since the opening of the building. Fortunately, one day the pool sprung a leak. It had to be drained; that meant that another home had to be found for the ducks. It took about six months to fix the pool.

I asked that while the leak was fixed, the fountains also be put back in operating condition. When told that the pump had been taken out, I suggested that it be replaced.

When that was done, I was then told that the new pump was very fragile and that it could only be put into operation on special days. I told the staff that that was not satisfactory; I wanted the fountains on all the time and if the pump broke, then we would fix it.

The pump never broke; the fountains are still running and were doing so when I visited the Embassy a few months ago.

The ducks never returned, as I hoped they never would. My answer to those who kept asking about the ducks was that I always said that I would be glad to make one available if the inquirer would keep it at his or her house.

One employee came to my office and demanded to see me to talk about the ducks. My secretary suggested that he go away because she knew that I did not want to discuss the ducks. After about fifteen minutes, he did leave. I heard all of the dialogue from the next room.

After he left, my secretary told me who it was. I called the guy’s boss — the Station Chief — and suggested that he had a staff member who obviously didn’t have enough work to do. I told the Station Chief that perhaps a review of his staffing might be appropriate. I never heard another word about ducks from that organization.

“He was known to have kicked a couple of ducks that had gotten in his way”

The final part of the duck saga concerns a plaque that had been placed on the side of the pool which read: “On this spot, Ambassador [Kenneth Barnard] Keating fed his water fowl thereby demonstrating his humanity to us all.”

I was assured that it had been given to him with tongue in cheek; he was known to have kicked a couple of ducks that had gotten in his way. I asked that that plaque be removed.

Along the same lines — and this has been confirmed to me by [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan himself — I heard a story that one day soon after his arrival, Ambassador Moynihan found one of our Marine Guards standing by the pool with a brown bag in hand.

Upon seeking clarification, the Ambassador was told by the Marine that it contained his (the Ambassador’s) duck food. Moynihan told the Marine that he didn’t have time to feed the ducks.

Upon his departure from New Delhi, Moynihan was presented a plaque which said: “On this spot, Ambassador Moynihan said he didn’t have time to feed the Goddamn ducks.”

That plaque apparently was never mounted on the pool. Such is the life of an ambassador!