King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament In Thailand Raises $100,000 For Conservation
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Tell most Americans you spent Sunday watching some large creatures chasing a ball around a field and they will assume you went to an NFL football game.
But say that to someone in Thailand and they might assume you attended the King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in the town of Hua Hin. The annual event raises money for the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand, which cares for more than 60 elephants and their "mahouts," the people who drive the lumbering giants.
What? You've never heard of elephant polo? The Thai game is a rip-roaring version of the jolly old sport. Of course, the players ride pachyderms instead of horses. That means that the mallets are a couple of feet longer to adjust for the elephants' height and the field -- or pitch -- is shorter because the elephants are more plodding than the ponies.
Keeping the elephants focused on the game is required. An elephant may not pick up the ball in its trunk during play. To do so constitutes a foul and a free hit is awarded to the opposing team from the spot where the ball was picked up.
Most important are the mandated rewards: At the end of each match, sugar cane or rice balls packed with vitamins (molasses and rock salt) shall be given to the elephants while a cold beer, or soft drink, is given to the elephant drivers and never vice versa.
Modern elephant polo dates back to 1982 when the World Elephant Polo Association established the governing rules. The association's headquarters are at the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge in the Royal Chitwan Park in Nepal, which is where the World Elephant Polo Tournament played every year on a grassy airfield in Megauly, Nepal.
Since then, the game has branched out to Sri Lanka, parts of India, and Thailand, where the King's Cup Tournament Championship Game was held on September 11.
The tournament, now in its tenth year, features 12 international teams participating on top of Thai elephants who have been specially chosen for the match. Each team has six humans riding atop of three elephants who, according to Anantara Elephant Polo, the tournament's main website, are young, usually under 20 years of age and taken off the streets for 2 weeks, and given a pleasant forested environment, food, payment for the mahouts, and veterinary check ups.
Organizers say the charity event raised more than $100,000, which isn't exactly peanuts, for the Thai Elephant Conservation Center.
The King’s Cup now Thailand's sixth biggest event, according to event organizers.
This year, heavy rain delayed the final and a shoot-out was called with defending champions Audemars Piguet taking on King Power International, eventually winning a second title with a final score of 3-2, according to the Bangkok Post.
Still, eyewitnesses say the event -- the biggest in tournament history was one that the humans and elephants will always remember.
Of course, elephants never forget.