Monday, February 23, 2009

Elephant Polo: The Sport of Kings

By Christopher Linch

One thing I must do before I kick the proverbial "bucket" is to see an Elephant Polo game. Elephant Polo, as you might guess, is a variant of polo played aboard an elephant. The home of the game is Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, Nepal, but can also be found in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and England. New York has a team: the Blues. Treetops is the home of the World Elephant Polo Championships. The 2008 Champions were England's "Air Tuskers".

Basic polo equipment is used, although the mallet is modified to reach from the back of the elephant to the ground, some six to nine feet. The field or "pitch" is shorter than a standard polo field (the reasons for this will be discussed in a moment). Due to the difficulty in steering perhaps, each elephant has two riders. The first is the "mahout". Familiar to us from Rudyard Kipling novels, this is the guy who rides on the elephant's head and encourages both movement and direction. The second rider actually plays the game by whacking the ball and calling out directions to the mahout.

The game was apparently a favorite of the British Colonial period in India, and reemerged after a heavy evening of drinking by the owner of Tiger Tops and his cronies. Some celebrity adherents of the game include Ringo Starr, Bryan Ferry of Roxie Music, the actor Steven Seagal, and the late adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary.

The World Elephant Polo Association governs the play in Nepal and Thailand. The WEPA strictly enforces rules regarding elephant welfare and game play. Other tournaments are managed independently. Most games are played today for charity. Aside from winning the game, other prizes include Best Dressed Team. Any excuse for champagne will do.

The game is played under the auspices of the World Elephant Polo Association (and yes, you can get a polo shirt!) which governs the play in Nepal and Thailand. The rules regarding elephant welfare are strictly enforced. Tournaments are not lengthy, and generally are played for charity once a year. Other prizes eagerly anticipated include the coveted Best Dressed Team Award.

Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge is an award winning wildlife safari and eco lodge in the heart of Chitwan National park. The Lodge is noted for it's eco-tourism model, it's conservation activism, it's organic cuisine and it's tree house accommodations. The lodge offers elephant safaris to view Bengal Tigers, Bison and Rhinoceros,.

The championships are usually scheduled at the end of November and beginning of December.

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