Elephant Polo Tournament Nepal
The World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) was formed in 1982 at Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge in the Royal Chitwan National Park in south west Nepal . The first games were played on a grass airfield in Meghauly which is located just on the edge of the National Park. The co-founders, James Manclark, a Scottish landowner and former Olympic tobogganer and Jim Edwards, owner of Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge and Chairman of the Tiger Mountain Group, came up with the idea in a bar in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where they are both members of the Cresta Club.
Elephant polo was first played in India around the turn of the 20th century, by members of the Maharaja’s Harem (Zenena) – to keep them busy. WEPA is the first paramount organization in the modern times to host and create elephant polo as a game with organized competitions. The first games were played with a soccer ball, but after finding that the elephants like to smash the balls, the soccer ball was replaced with a standard polo ball. The sticks are made of bamboo and have a standard polo mallet on the end. The length of the stick depends on the size of the elephant – anywhere from 5 to 12 feet.
Most of the rules of the games are based on horse polo, but the pitch is 3/4 length (because of the slower speed of the elephants) and there are some necessary additions – for instance, it is a penalty for an elephant to lie down in front of the goal line. Players are secured in rope harnesses, with a rope across their thighs and rope stirrups. The game will stop if a player’s harness becomes too loose and there is a danger of the player falling off. Players have fallen off elephants only a few times in WEPA’s 20-year history.
The primary difference between horse and elephant polo, besides the substitution of an elephant for a horse, is that the elephants are “driven” by their trainers, called “mahouts.” The mahouts have generally worked with the elephant for many years and the elephants respond quickly to the mahout’s signals and commands. The mahout communicates with the elephant with verbal commands and by applying pressure to the back of the elephant’s ears with their feet. The player’s responsibility is to let the mahout know where to go, how fast, when to stop, etc. Most of the mahouts and all of the elephants only understand Nepali, so the communication is difficult at times. The professional players tend to learn some basics Nepali to help with the communication on the pitch.
The WEPA tournament has been hosted by Tiger Tops at Meghauly each December since 1982. It is an invitational event and has in the past included teams representing a wide variety of countries and sponsors
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