THE ELEPHANT STORY
THE ELEPHANT STORY
Our journey into the world of elephant polo began in a small school ground near the Golden Triangle Four Seasons Tented Camp when our dear friend, Jason Friedman, introduced us to this addiction in 2006. The fascination with this bizarre sport changed many of our lives to create our focus on elephant conservation and the formation of the not-for-profit The Elephant Story to support the 300 elephants in the small village of Moo Baan Chang with a veterinarian and English-speaking teachers to educate the children and provide them the opportunity to enter university.
Our spiritual leader in this endeavor has been John Roberts who should be referenced as “The Elephant Whisperer” in his capacity as head of The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. He has been devoted to elephant conservation most of his life and is shown below wearing his normal mahout home-spun cotton shirt. I once saw him in a conservation meeting in Bangkok and could hardly believe it was John wearing a jacket and a tie. Khun Wee and Khun Seng, below, rounded out our elephant education program.
My close friend, Khun Suphapong, shown below at a King’s Cup elephant polo tournament was instrumental in creating my perspective on Thailand from the time I met him thirty-seven years ago and we became business partners. Sadly, he passed several years back leaving a hole in many of our lives.
Apart from the usual suspects shown below, Bobby Dent on the far left has made The Elephant Story a great success. Bobby has decided it is time to retire and will be moving to Palm Springs, California to live a life of leisure. We will miss him beyond belief, but it is time for him to take a breather and enjoy life.
Following our introduction to elephant polo in the school yard, we graduated to our first King’s Cup to find it challenging given the large number of well-trained, veteran horse polo players who adapted to elephant polo for the fun of it. In the image below, I am being chased by the veteran horse and elephant polo player Raj Kalan, the silver fox, who has since passed as well. Obviously, we lost to his veteran team.
I must say what we lacked in elephant polo experience, we more than compensated with style and joie de vivre. Jason’s mother Karin is seated below next to Joey. She is a force of her own. In one of our early competitions against a German team, they accused us of influencing the mahout drivers of the elephants as we spoke Thai enabling us to control the match. John Roberts went ballistic and called the game which we won. On a later competitive occasion, they evened the score and came by to pay their respects to Jason’s mom. She turned to me and said, “I hate those f-------- Germans.” It was a fair statement for her as she is German.
Playing in the annual King’s Cup seemed to be insufficient, so we formed our own tournament in the Moo Baan Chang elephant village to take the sport to the source and play twice a year. It was a boon to the economy of this small village and great fun for the players to be deeply immersed in the elephant culture. Our underlying mission was to educate the youngsters in this small, remote village. For some two thousand years, the villagers have been elephant people going back to the days of capturing elephants in the wild. It is very strange to see an average of three elephants for every village home.
Our educational force in Moo Baan Chang has been Khru Oh, standing next to me below, who added a new dimension to the definition of a “determined educator.” She seized on the concept of English education for the youngsters in the village so that the students could enter Thai universities. It turns out the qualified “students” were largely girls who could see an avenue for themselves to improve their lives and that of their families. We supported two English instructors from abroad for the life of the program, one of whom is standing to my left above, is a teacher in Texas and, by chance, the daughter of our ranch foreman.
Another strong supporter of our educational and fund-raising efforts is Khun Jill standing next to Joey below. Our close friend managed our product selection efforts, taking Joey’s product concepts and transferring the ideas into sales items for The Elephant Story store in Comfort, Texas. John Roberts suggested the baby elephants needed blankets during the cold winters, so Jill initiated a blanket knitting program at our Bangkok home, The Siam Hotel, which kept baby elephants comfortable. The Tinsmith’s Wife in Comfort, Texas and their patrons also joined this effort.
One clear distinction of our team compared to others is shown below, in that, we four were close friends and always enjoyed ourselves. We had played together for so many years that we always knew where the other team member would be and who would block the defender and who would shoot on goal.
Our finest hour of competition was the 2016 King’s Cup in Bangkok when we carried a perfect record into the final match. Therefore, in the semi-finals we defeated the Raj Kalan team which dumb-founded our fellow competitors. In the final half of our last match, we did lose to the professional King Power team to be the tournament runner up. It was the last King’s cup as a journalist paid a mahout we knew to beat an elephant which the journalist filmed. The fraudulent images went viral, and all the high-end product sponsors disappeared. The elephants and our Moo Baan Chang village friends were the losers.
We continued to hold our own smaller tournament in The Elephant Village until 2018 when I had increasing difficulty getting some of the competitors to settle their fees. When I dismounted from our final victory, Joey was relieved that I could still walk after all those years of injuries. Nonetheless, it was a hell of a ride for a great cause just like our fund-raising efforts for “our” favorite village and their people.
A Purchase That Means More.
Our products are from Asian elephant countries offered to fund programs for the families and their 300 elephants in Baan Ta Klang, northeast Thailand. Your support enables us to provide two native English-speaking teachers in the village as well as underwrite a portion of the veterinary services for the elephants.
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