Gallery: Thai elephants go from the streets to the polo pitch
Capping off a week of mad mallet skills, big money, hot ladyboys and boozy afternoons on the pitch, Thailand's annual King's Cup Elephant Polo tournament came to a close on Sunday.
This year's King's Cup had 12 teams, plus an exhibition match featuring players from the New Zealand All Black rugby squad and a few of the ladies from Pattaya's famed Tiffany's transvestite cabaret show. (See the gallery above for highlights.)
Organized by luxury hotel brand Anantara in the southern resort town of Hua Hin, this year's event raised over 3.3 million baht (US$107,000), which will go to various charities that support Thailand's elephants.
In the end, it was Thailand's very own King Power team that took the top trophy, beating out the Audemars Piguet squad.
'No microchip, no game'
Fun times aside, elephant polo isn't without controversy.
Critics fault those involved for using the very animals they strive to protect in an often rough display of sport.
Supporters on hand in Hua Hin argued that the King's Cup event is one of the few that improves the plight of Thailand's "begging" elephants, getting 50 of them -- along with their mahouts (trainers) -- off the streets for a couple of weeks a year and into a green environment, where they're well fed and receive full veterinary checks.
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"The welfare of the elephants participating in the polo tournament is paramount, with strict rules in place to ensure that the pachyderms are well cared for at all times," says Anantara in a statement.
"Thanks to Thailand’s advanced microchipping program for all legal domesticated elephants and research into DNA tagging, by imposing a 'no microchip, no game' rule, Anantara guarantees that all elephants who play have been domestically bred and not captured from the wild or smuggled in from neighboring countries."
The rules of the game
According to the World Elephant Polo Association, the rules are actually pretty similar to those of horse polo.
But in elephant polo, all of the animals carry a player and a mahout. Ladies are allowed to use both hands to swing their mallets which are around two meters long.
Each team is made up of three players, with matches taking place on a marked pitch of 100 meters by 60 meters, using a standard polo ball.
In the case of the King's Cup tournament, elephants chosen to participate must be young -- preferably under 20 -- but large enough to carry a player with ease.
Each elephant is limited to a maximum of two games totaling less than 30 minutes per day, with at least 90 minutes out in the forest, the river or eating a well-balanced meal between each 14-minute chukka.
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