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Ditching Ponies For Pachyderms At The Elephant Polo Championship

Krish Dulal
Wikimedia Commons
World cup 2011 of Elephant Polo in Meghauli, Nepal.

Polo, the game much loved by the British Royals, has a murky history. No one is quite sure where it originated, but modern polo was formalized by the British in India. Normally played on polo ponies (although they are actually horses), the game involves men riding up and down a field, wielding a long handled stick called a mallet, hitting a small round ball. Fairly fast speeds can be attained, and injuries are not infrequent.

But what happens when the Sport of Kings abandons ponies for pachyderms? For one thing, speed is no longer such an issue. Problems can now consist of balky elephants refusing to play, sitting down mid-game and on occasion picking a fight with a team member. For all of the above reasons, the team can only consist of three elephants at a time on the playing field. Each elephant carries two riders, one to direct the animal, the other to hit the ball.

The idea of playing polo on elephants began with an idle conversation between friends. Since 1982, the World Elephant Polo Association has made its headquarters at the Lodge in the Royal Chitwan Park in Nepal. Next Saturday, the world tournament will be played on a grassy airfield in Meghauli, a place dedicated to the game and scrupulously maintained year round. The Elephant Polo Game is not without its critics, particularly People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  As a consequence of their endeavors, all references to the game have been removed from the Guinness Book of Records, and several sponsors have withdrawn from the competition.

Learn more about celebrations happening around the world this week on World Music with Deirdre Saravia, Saturday nights at 8:00 on KSTX 89.1 FM.

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Deirdre as born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and her first paid work was at the age of 10 with the BBC as an actress on "Children's Hour." She continued to perform regularly on radio and stage for the next eight years, at which point she was informed by her parents that theater was not an option and she needed "real" work.