Elephant polo raises cash for conservation in Thailand

About 30 elephants trained to play polo raised money to save its own kind at the 2017 King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Bangkok on Thursday, March 9th.

Mahouts handled the elephants while the players tried to strike the ball with a mallet that is much longer than those used with ponies. The ball is the same size as a regular polo ball.

The elephants and their mahouts participated in a blessing ceremony at the opening of the event.

"Well over last many years, we have now collected more than 1.3 million U.S. dollars to help with so many different projects for domesticated and wild elephants in Thailand, and now expanding to other Asian countries as well," one of the organisers, Tim Boda, said.

The elephant polo event was first introduced in the seaside town of Hua Hin in 2001, bringing in polo enthusiasts and professional players from around the world. The annual event is in its 15th year.

Donations were from big businesses and celebrities who sometimes participate in the match.

One of the participants, Adam Janikowski, whose company was one of the donors in the event, has ridden horses before, but said the experience on an elephant was very different.

%shareLinks-quote="To be honest, a lot of my experience lately has been rodeo. So, this is even worse because I don't think I ever want to do rodeo events with any of the elephants." type="quote" author="Adam Janikowski" authordesc="Participant " isquoteoftheday="false"%

The elephants were treated to a buffet of fruits and vegetables as part of their high-energy diet.

The elephant is a symbol of Thailand and in ancient times they were used to carry soldiers into battle.

Animal rights groups have criticized the use of elephants in the tourism industry, arguing that the animals are often mistreated.

There are about 3,700 elephants left in the wild in Thailand and up to 4,000 domesticated ones, according to EleAid, a British organization working for the conservation of the Asian elephant.

Deforestation, rapid urbanization and poaching of elephants for their ivory have all contributed to a dramatic decline in the wild elephant population.