Where on earth would you come up with the idea for playing polo on elephants? Well, in a bar -- where else? Although it is believed that the maharajas in early India had ladies in their harems ride in sedan chairs on tops of elephants and take swats at polo balls, it was not the serious sport that it has become today. Moreover, the maharajas likely came up with the idea to keep the ladies amused and provide themselves brief respites from their own harem duties. It all came together in the winter of 1982 when Jim Edwards, owner of Tiger Tops jungle lodge in the Royal Chitwan national park in Nepal, met James Manclark, a Scottish polo player, in a bar in St. Moritz. Both of them had been riding the Cresta toboggan run. While there, the two of them hatched an idea to play polo on Jim Edward's elephants in Nepal.
Perhaps they were seeing white elephants when they met again the following morning and formulated a plan and some simple rules. Manclark sent a telex to Jim with the following: WILL ARRIVE APRIL 1 STOP HAVE ELEPHANTS READY STOP. Maybe it is the longest running April Fool's joke in modern history. Accordingly, the World Elephant Polo Association "WEPA" was formed and no one has looked back since.
The following year was a bit more professional in terms of promoting the event.
The author had the pleasure of meeting and spending some time with Jim Edwards at the 2008 King's Cup in the Golden Triangle of Thailand. He passed on March 23, 2009 but remained a fascinating character to the end.
Shown below to the left of the author is James Manclark in a photo taken at the 2009 King's Cup where Manclark and the players paid tribute to the iconic Jim Edwards. Manclark retired from elephant polo in 2014 after having won the King's Cup and the WEPA Cup in the same year, which was a first in the annals of elephant polo. As it does not get any better than that, it was time to retire.
Chris Stafford brought the sport to Thailand with the first King's Cup Tournament played oddly enough on September 11. 2001. Therefore, this year represented the 16th year of the King's Cup. Chris is a leader in the hospitality field and always seems to find great sponsors such as Moet Chandon in their striking black shirts.
This year, the Fourth Annual Elephant Story Invitational Tournament represented the evolution of elephant polo from Nepal, to major Anantara hotel locations in Thailand, to the small village of Moo Baan Chang.
Therefore, what began in a bar in St. Moritz thirty-five years ago has evolved into a multi-national activity and has found its way into the largest home of domesticated elephants in the world. All of the proceeds from the event remain in the village which is supplemented by the efforts of The Elephant Story through the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation to support native-speaking English teachers in the village and a veterinarian program for the 300 elephants there. The players, the elephants and their mahouts have fun in an effort that adds to the sustainability of the elephants in a world of shrinking natural habitats.
Click below for a video of James Manclark describing The Creation of Elephant Polo.