Elephant Polo: The King’s Cup

Photographer Stefan Heinrichs Reveals the Characters Behind the Extraordinary Sport

Players, spectators, staff and pachyderms pause amid the action at the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament in a new film by Stefan Heinrichs. The annual competition held in the royal town of Hua Hin, Thailand, sees teams sponsored by the likes of Mercedes Benz and Audemars Piguet going head to head eight feet above ground to raise money for elephant rehabilitation, conservation and related charities. Each animal carries two people on its back during a match: a polo player wielding an extra long cane mallet, and a mahout or professional elephant rider to guide him. The scene off the pitch is all the more surreal, as international sports stars and European royals rub shoulders with Buddhist monks and transgender beauty queens. Filmed in black and white, Heinrich’s work captures the event’s quieter moments in a sequence of moving portraits, a signature technique the Berlin-based photographer has honed in projects for the likes of Mykita and Moncler. Heinrichs cites the Kru Ba Yai—elephant spirit men who open the proceedings by blessing the animals—as a highlight of filming this year’s tournament at the Anantara Resort on Thailand’s gulf coast. “They’re so connected to the elephants,” he notes of the ancient tradition. “But people don’t learn the practice anymore. These four men are the only ones who can still talk to them.” 


Elephants involved
42—all of whom receive a medical check-up as part of the tournament.

Number of male elephants

Number of teams

Longest polo stick

Match time
Two seven-minute chukkas, or halves.

Money raised to date
$600,000 for the Thai Elephant Conservation Center and other charities.

Average elephant weight

Total weight of elephants

Total weight of food consumed by the elephants

Staple food (elephants)
Bananas and pineapples.

Staple food (photographer)
Bananas and pineapples
—plus lots of water, and the occasional pla neung see-ew (steamed fish with soy sauce).

Average age of elephant players
17 years and 6 months.

Average age of human players
52 years and 6 months.

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Conversations (3)

  • ranos
    Great game.This will really help elephants to reduce their weight. :D <a href="http://bit.ly/10kfAon" target="_blank">http://bit.ly/10kfAon</a>
    • Posted By ranos
    • March 28, 2013 at 5:39AM
    • Share Comment:
  • tulsai
    Great different thinking.I wanna play elephant polo. <a href="http://bit.ly/WwWUCz" target="_blank">http://bit.ly/WwWUCz</a>
    • Posted By tulsai
    • January 30, 2013 at 1:56AM
    • Share Comment:
  • Mozartmike
    A remarkable piece done with such a beautiful story line.I was set to see the game,and I'm so glad that I didn't. Bravo Folks!

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