Elephant Polo Tournament Packs its Trunk for Bangkok
By Robin Jay
Mark your calendars! The 2014 dates for the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament have been released. This year’s event, August 28 – 31, will move from its original home of Hua Hin to the Thai capital of Bangkok, assuring nail-biting action on and off the field.
A total of 50 street elephants will participate in this year’s tournament, which is played much like horse polo but with a few key nuances: All elephants carry a player and a mahout (an animal keeper); ladies may use both hands; and players use mallets two meters long. Due to the size of the enormous mammals, each team is made of three players and their four-legged pachyderm teammate.
At the first elephant polo games in 2001, teams played with a soccer ball. However, when officials discovered playful elephants liked to stamp and pop the soccer balls, they quickly switched to standard polo balls. Humorously, the highly intelligent elephants seem to enjoy entertaining the crowd with their antics. Some play-restrain by sitting on top of a slow-moving jeep and swinging at the ball using their trunk as a polo stick! No elephants may lie down in front of the goal. To do so constitutes a foul. And an elephant may not pick up the ball in its trunk during play. This also constitutes a foul and a free hit is awarded to the opposing team.
Benefiting The Welfare of Elephants
Now in its 13th season, the annual Elephant Polo Tournament – one of the largest charitable events in SE Asia – has raised more than $750,000 to help fund projects that improve the lives of Thailand’s wild and domesticated elephant population. Initiatives include supporting research and clinics using elephants in therapy sessions for children living with autism; building the first elephant hospital in Krabi in southern Thailand and donating a framework to help lame elephants stand at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre. Funds also go toward planting 4,000 trees to create elephant corridors in Kui Buri to help avoid elephant/farmer conflicts; funding children’s educational programs to teach them the importance of conservation and protection of wild elephants, and funding workshops showing traditional elephant trainers and camp owners the benefits of Positive Reinforcement Training for domesticated elephants.
During the tournaments, hosted by Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas, all of the street elephants are well fed, provided with a native forest environment, and receive essential vitamin supplements and veterinary care. Street life and ‘unemployment’ can be tough for an elephant, walking through crowded tourist areas and busy roads for 10 hours a night, forced to rest during the day on small green spaces within the cities, often without shade and water. Sugarcane or rice balls packed with vitamins (molasses and rock salt) are given to the elephants at the end of each match, and a cold beer, or soft drink, to the elephant drivers. The King’s Cup schedule is deliberately designed to give these elephants rest and relaxation on a scale they are never afforded in their ‘normal’ lives. Last year’s event which had 16 teams encompassing over 50 players, including Thai supermodels, professional horse polo players, the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team and Thailand’s famous cabaret team Miss Tiffany’s was a far cry from the small two teamed event back when it started in 2001.
For more information on the 13th Annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, visit www.anantaraelephantpolo.com