As the sun crept its way over the jungle top, local kids gathered at one corner of the field watching with curiosity as the 31st World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) Championships began at Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge. The tournament was off to a flying start at 8am as the reining champions, EFG Switzerland, took on the well-practiced Pukka Chukkas. In no time, one of the tournaments best players, Sangjay Choegyal, took EFG to a commanding lead scoring 4 quick goals in matter of minutes. James Hancock came through with 2 more goals, reaffirming why EFG are back to defend their two year rein.
But half time will prove to be a game changer throughout the tournament, as teams are required to swap elephants. As much as elephant polo is a game of skill, the speed, agility, size and age of the elephants, in addition to the communication between players and their mahouts, will be important determining factors. The Pukka Chukkas did indeed come back on the attack at the start of the second chukka. Michael Leaton made a break on the wing to tap through the Pukka Chukka’s first goal. Sangjay, true to form, responded with a powerful goal from half way. Although they scored twice more, the Pukka Chukka’s left their run too late, with EFG securing a 10-8 victory.
After an hour break the field had firmed for the Afghanifants to challenge the Tigresses’, the only all women’s team of the tournament. Playing on their home turf, the Tigresses’ dominated the match from start to finish. Sam Prentice led the charge scoring more goals than one could count in the first half! Captain Stine Edwards made her break in the second half scoring four goals. It was an impressive display from the Tigresses’, proving they are serious contenders in this years championships, winning 17-2.
The balmy afternoon weather encouraged a larger crowd to the polo field where the Tiger Tops Tuskers went up against Mel’s Angels. Receiving well directed passes from Peter Prentice, Kristjan Edwards fired four goals in the opening minutes of the first half. With ease, control and relative grace, Kristjan’s affinity with the jungle, elephants and the mahouts was palpable. Kristjan’s brother, Tim, held the attack in the second half, bringing the Tiger Tops Tuskers to a 9-4 victory.
The last and arguably one of the most anticipated games of the day was when Chinggis Khaan from Mongolia took to the field against the Rusty Kukris. Competing in only their second elephant polo tournament in Nepal, the Chinggis Khaan were sleek and clearly in control. Number three, Chuka, of the Chinggis Khann stole show, scoring goal after goal with ease and composure. Many from Mongolia play polo for only two summer months. Tristan Foster help put the Rusty’s on the board, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Mongolian team at bay who won 14-6.