Elephants play polo, run races in Sri Lanka

Some 40 elephants helped to raise funds for charity Saturday by running races, taking part in a tug-of-war, playing polo and dancing to the rhythm of traditional drums. Mahouts straddled atop the hulking pachyderms maneuvered their animals draped in bright colored cloths despite the scorching tropical heat through a lively game of polo amid loud cheers from the boisterous crowd, the majority of whom were children.

The animals also took part in a 100-meter sprint and a hard-fought tug-of-war with one elephant at one end of the rope and 150 men at the other. Neither side was deemed to have won. The spectators, including foreign tourists, enjoyed the show from behind wire fences put up for their protection. Organizers carried radio sets to monitor the elephants' behavior and ensure security.

No one was allowed to touch or feed the elephants. Over 1,000 people turned out to watch the events at a former racecourse in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, aimed at raising funds for the Tamed Elephants' Owners Association.

"The intention of the show is to raise money for a fund to be set up catering to the requirements of the tamed elephants," said Sunil Rambukpotha, one of the organizers and a member of the association. Sunil said it costs more than 1,500 rupees (US$15; Ђ 12.6) per day to maintain an elephant.

"Owners are making great efforts to look after and sustain those tamed elephants as these will be the final group of tamed elephants to be owned by individuals." It is now illegal to capture elephants in the wild and tame them, he said.

An adult elephant can cost as much as three million rupees (US$30,000; Ђ 25,000), he said. For centuries, aristocratic families in Sri Lanka kept tamed elephants captured from the wild with the consent of kings and later the British Empire, which ruled the country for more than 100 years until 1948.

A century ago, 10,000 to 15,000 elephants roamed wild in Sri Lanka, but today only about 3,000 remain, largely because of poaching and loss of habitat. "At least 100 wild elephants are killed annually," Sunil said, reports the AP.


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