Bangkok: The action was hot and heavy – especially heavy – as competition began in Thailand’s King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament, a quirky charity event whose proceeds benefit the beasts who are the games’ stars.
The game deviates from standard polo in several aspects, aside from the mounts weighing upward of 2,200kg.
Two people – the player and a mahout, or trainer, sit astride each elephant.
The mallets are about 2m long, and women are allowed to use both hands to wield them.
Elephants are the de facto national animal of Thailand, and for a time even adorned the country’s flag.
But in the past few decades, they have fallen on hard times, as deforestation has deprived them of a habitat where they can roam wild and led to massive unemployment in logging, the sector where tamed elephants could once earn an honest living.
The tournament’s organiser, a Thai-owned international hotel chain, says that since the games began in 2001 – originally in the city of Hua Hin but now in the capital, Bangkok – they have raised almost US$950,000 (RM3.7mil) for projects benefiting Thailand’s elephants, “including housing for the mahouts and families, shelters for the elephants and a mobile blood centrifuge and elephant ambulance for the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre”. — AP