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The elephant roundup in Surin, Thailand

The people of Surin, Thailand, participate in an elephant roundup once a year.

File:Surin round up.jpg

Every year, at a town called Surin in the north of Thailand, the local people have an elephant roundup.

Yes, a roundup, where hundreds of elephants are brought in from the many villages around Surin and for one week there are many interesting things to see.

One event is a baby show where all the baby elephants born through the year parade with their mothers and are judged for the best looking one.

The winner is given a big bunch of bananas to share with his mother and other elephants.
In Thailand the elephant is still used to work in the thick jungles where tractors can’t go and they push down and haul huge teak logs into the sawmills.
Elephants are wonderful animals and they are very smart. During the festival two teams of elephants from different villages compete in a game of soccer. The ball is about 600 mm (2 feet) in diameter and each side has five elephants. The biggest one on the team is picked as goalie and they really enjoy the fun.
Sometimes the goalie gets excited with the game and in error kicks the ball into his opponent’s goal instead of stopping the ball. Of course, the opposition counts the goal as theirs.
The referee, usually a very big elephant, carries a spare ball in his trunk just in case one of his mates stands on the ball in play and squashes it. He forgets sometimes that he is referee and joins in the fun by running down the field kicking the ball. It is a lot of fun for everybody and all have a lot of laughs.
At the end of the show all the men dress in old time costumes and the elephants are dressed in old time armour and then hundreds of elephants and men engage in a mock war.
Many, many, many years ago the Burmese from the north came down and tried to invade Thailand (called Siam in those days) but the Thai’s stopped them in a great battle between men and elephants.

Many of men and lots of elephants died in that terrible battle but the Burmese have never tried it since. The Thai’s are proud of their win and that is the battle which is enacted every year.
Have you ever heard of a “Mahout”?

Well if you haven’t he is the man who looks after the elephant, the man you see riding on the elephant’s head.
When a baby elephant is born he is allowed to go to work with his mother until he is about fourteen or fifteen years of age. Now the interesting thing is that an elephant lives about the same time as humans do so, when a boy is born in the village, his father scouts around to find a village with a baby elephant the same age. When he does he buys the elephant and as soon as the baby is old enough to leave his mother he is brought to the village of the boy and then the young boy has to look after him.
Can you imagine having an elephant for a pet?

He could hardly sneak into bed like a cat or a dog, could he?
Elephants have to go to water every day because if they don’t their skin dries out (they can’t sweat like a horse does). One of the boy’s jobs is to take his elephant to water every day after school. The boy and elephant grow up together and eventually work together in the jungles as a team.

An elephant is very heavy, of course, and as he must have a bath every day there is always the possibility he may sink in the mud and get stuck.

So nature built in some insurance in the elephant’s feet. Their pads are very soft and next time you see an elephant at the circus or zoo, listen very carefully to see if he makes any sound when he walks.

If you closed your eyes and ten elephants walked past you, you would not be able to hear them even though each one weighs tons. Their soft feet act as a cushion and when they stand in mud their feet expand like a tire when the air has gone.

A flat tire! This makes it very easy for them to lift their feet. Clever, isn’t it?
The mahout and the elephant spend their entire life together and get to become the very best of friends. The mahout tries to take his elephant with him wherever he goes and it is not unusual in Thailand to see an elephant and his mahout strolling through the streets of town when the mahout comes in to shop.
There comes a time when both the man and the elephant get too old to work and while the man stays at home in the village the elephant is slowly encouraged to go out into the jungle.  That is so he can live out his life free in the wild until he eventually dies of old age.

One final story about elephants. Sometimes an elephant is born white. Well, not really white, but much lighter than most. These elephants are very highly valued in Thailand and in the old days the many kings who lived in the land sought out these elephants and paid a lot of money for them. Legend in those days said that those elephants were special and were not to work.

As a result the really rich kings built special houses for the white elephants and gave them the best of keepers and fed them very well.
Of course this cost a lot of money, so the smart kings did their best to find white elephants and then present then to their worst enemy in the hope that the cost of keeping all the elephants would be more than he could afford and he would eventually go broke. When that happened the first king would invade the second king’s territory and take over the land.

That is where we get our expression “White Elephant”.

A White Elephant costs so much to buy and to keep and can’t do any work.


© 2002 Pagewise

Photo by Marcin Nowak  from Wikipedia.org

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