Polo-playing elephants in Nepal
The World Elephant Polo Tournament takes place every November in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. (World Elephant Polo Association)
Known as the “sport of kings", polo also becomes the sport of giants when players ride elephants instead of horses.
Elephant polo, played primarily in countries like India, Nepal and Thailand, follows similar rules as the traditional sport, though the pitch (or field) is a bit smaller, players wield longer mallets made from cane or bamboo and two people ride the elephant: the player and the mahout who steers the animal. Each team has four players and four elephants who work to score across the opposing team’s goal line.
A few of the rules have also been modified from the equine version in consideration of the larger mounts. The animals must not lie down in front of the goal or pick up the polo ball with their trunks, or the opposing team gets a free hit. Men may only use their right hand to swing the mallet, while women may use both hands. If at any time, an umpire believes a dangerous switch or play has been made, the other team is allowed to take a free hit.
The organizers keep the elephants’ health and safety in mind at all times. Not only are there strict rules against any harsh treatment of the animals, but also elephants may not play more than two 20-minute games a day and each animal is rewarded with sugar cane or rice balls full of molasses and rock salt after each match.
The World Elephant Polo Tournament, held every November in Nepal, features the best teams from around the world. First held in 1982, the five-day championship event invites the polo chapters from India, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand and Nepal to Tiger Tops, a conservation resort in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. This year’s event starts on 25 November.