Celebrating Sandra Kali
Sandra’s story begins ten years ago at the 2004 World Elephant Polo Championships at Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge in Chitwan, Nepal, home of the World Elephant Polo Association and the sport’s annual World Championships that take place each December. Known by those who were there as the ‘love camp’ edition, WEPA 2004 is fondly remembered as the one at which a wild elephant, appropriately nicknamed Romeo, roamed the Chitwan National Park in search of a mate. At Tiger Tops, despite the best efforts of the elephant keepers to dissuade the amorous chancer, he found one in Hira Kali.
A massive elephant, Hira Kali was probably around 30 years old when she met Romeo and conceived Sandra. Too large to play elephant polo – even people with the longest arms would have struggled even with a 115 inch stick to play effectively from her massive bulk – Hira Kali, like all elephants at Tiger Tops earned her living carrying guests around the jungle on safari. She spent her days roaming the banks of the Rapti River in search of Bengal Tigers and one-horned rhinos.
On 12th September 2006 Hira Kali gave birth to a baby girl. Hira Kali’s elephant friend heard her giving birth and made her way across to help with midwife duties. The baby was born slightly outside the elephant house and when the keepers tried the next morning to move her under the shelter of the house’s roof she refused point blank to move. Even at just hours old a baby elephant is too heavy to be pushed about and it was only after coaxing from her mother and her friend that the baby agreed to move. This was an elephant with attitude.
At the 2006 World Championships the young baby, now named Sandra Kali after the Tiger Tops guest who sponsored her, captivated players with mischievous displays in her elephant house. A steady trail of guests made their way each day to the elephant camp to meet her and enjoy her antics. In the house she shared with her mother there was a tree trunk that she taught herself to climb onto, perching with all four feet on the stump as a circus elephant would do. But Sandra didn’t do her trick because she had been trained to do it. She did it because she enjoyed doing it. I watched her balance on that tree stump back in December 2006 and she was a very proud young lady indeed who clearly enjoyed the reaction she provoked from her many admirers.
Domesticated elephants usually begin their training at between three and a half and four years old. But Sandra Kali grew quickly and so, at three years old her lessons began. Her carers, known as ‘mahouts’ were selected from Tiger Tops staff.