One of the biggest charitable events in Southeast Asia is causing a debate between divided factions of the elephant conservation community: The Bangkok’s Ascot, a polo tournament taking place on the banks of the Chao Praya river, in which the horse has been replaced by the mighty four-ton Asian Elephant. The event has stirred debate and has also attracted donors, with more that $1 million raised funds for projects to protect Asia’s largest land mammal.
Many of those who oppose the event say the tournament say elephant polo is just another form of cruelty and exploitation.
“We consider elephant polo as wildlife exploitation, which under the new animal welfare laws would be a illegal act if it is not part of Thailand’s cultural heritage. We intend to file a charge for exploitation if the event takes place. They talk about the funds raised but the reality is that this helps make a lot of money for a major business,” said Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation.
But supporters of the game say polo is not bad for the elephants and it’s much better than their lives on the streets or working in trekking camps in Thailand’s tourist resorts.
“They have a break from that life when they participate in the polo. They are well fed, given essential vitamins and provided with full veterinary checks and care for the duration of the event during a tournament up so each elephant only plays 28 minutes per day – 14 in the morning, 14 in the afternoon,” said Mr. John Roberts, director of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.
Mr. Roberts added that the funds which will be raised during the tournament will be put to good use, with the stated aim of improving the wellbeing of both wild and domesticated elephants in Thailand. Several projects will benefit from the money, ranging from clinics using elephants to battle child autism to conservation and others.
Elephant polo has a fan base in other Asian countries: in Nepal, the place where it was first invented back in the 1980s, and also in Sri Lanka. Last year, India decided to no longer stage similar tournaments, after a court decided that the activity is cruel.