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Anyone for elephant polo?
Stephen Scourfield Polo player precariously hangs on to her mount.

One of the young chaps gets in a frightful lather and chucks a tantrum. Seems his huffalump just won't go where he wants it to, or fast enough. Dashed aggravating. He gets red in the face, waves his arms around, shoves the mahout who's driving the elephant and generally causes a bit of a scene.

It takes the Silver Fox to calm him down.

Colonel Raj Kalaan is a legend of elephant and horse polo, representing India in the latter in both the 1970s and 1980s, which is no mean feat. He turned his attention to the pachyderm in 1987, to captain the Oberoi hotel and resort group's team, which promptly won the World Elephant Polo Association championship in 1989.

Silver Fox has a cool head on his shoulders.

He strides out on to the pitch in his long leather boots and a polo shirt, and offers up some firm, settling advice to the young flash-in-the-pan. He also offers up a bottle of water to pour over his head.

Then Silver Fox paces demurely back off the field.

There are few people to watch the shenanigans - mostly just the well-heeled players and their families, the bare-foot mahouts and the thong-footed staff of Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and Spa, Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand, where this year's King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament was held in March. Paid cheerleaders use shakers made from gravel in empty beer cans with a seal over the hole.

But most have noticed the hissy fit and even the commentator makes jolly old mention of it.

He calls Silver Fox over. "How's the temperature out there?"

It is warm and dry at this northern tip of Thailand at this time of year and the players are sweating buckets, but he doesn't mean that.

"Rather hot," says Silver Fox.

"You advised water on the head. Will that work? Cool things down?"

"Of course it will work," says the colonel quietly.

There are teams backed by Tourism Authority of Thailand, by banking and finance groups, resorts, champagne makers and a German car manufacturer. They charge up and down the down the pitch and scoring is simply a goal for every time the ball is hit through the opposing goal.

All proceeds from the tournament go to the National Elephant Institute, for elephant welfare and sustenance, employment, mahout training and medical treatment. Over the years, US$250,000 has been raised. Last year's proceeds were also used to "rescue rent" five street elephants to be trained in occupational therapy jointly by the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre and Chiang Mai University as part of an investigation into the benefits of using elephants in the treatment of autism.

That elephants might be used to calm behavioural problems is interesting.

The behavioural problems on the polo field seem to have quietened down now. The young chap has settled and is getting on with the game. Silver Fox was clearly on the money.

But a game of elephant polo could never exactly be described as "quiet" and, just at this moment, there's another kerfuffle.

This time it's two of the elephants sparking up.

Later in the evening, pink-haired and Ganesh-tattooed elephant behaviourist and veterinary nurse June Billings (somewhat oddly from Suffolk in southern England), who is here to make sure all's well for the pachyderms, confirms: "Two of them got really angry with one another. They were shouting at one another. We pulled one of them off."

And I did notice that they all got a bit of water poured over their heads.

>> Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Thai Tourism.