Shindi Poonia, whose daughter Orlagh, five, is a pupil at Bruton School for Girls’ Sunny Hill Prep, is a member of ‘The Rusty Kukris’ – the only UK-based elephant polo team.
As well as taking part in the World Championships, Mr Poonia, who served in the Parachute Regiment, Pathfinders, French Foreign Legion and the Royal Logistic Corps, was also helping to raise money for the UK-based anti-slavery and human trafficking charity ‘Freedom Matters’.
“The build-up to this year’s competition was in doubt due to rumours of bombs, strikes and turmoil in Nepal and the possibility of cancellation if Nepal’s election violence closed Kathmandu,” said Mr Poonia.
“It was therefore with some relief we found the capital its normal chaotic, exotic self when we dropped through the mid-day smog to land four days before the first formal chukka was due to be played,” he added.
The Championships took place at the Tiger Tops’ Karnali lodge in Nepal’s Badia national park. The Rusty Kukris were drawn against the Springbok Legends, the Ceylon Elephant Polo Association and the reigning World Champions EFG Switzerland in the tournament’s own version of the Pool of Death.
The Kukris successfully defended their Best Dressed Trophy and fought through to reach the Olympic Quaich.
Mr Poonia said: “This year the Kukris delivered our best result to date on the field and we continued to live up to our reputation. We were proud to be sponsored by Bruton School for Girls, who supplied hooded tops and drinking bottles for our trip.
“It is of course worth mentioning this was all about raising funds for ‘Freedom Matters’ – which is a particularly deserving Nepali charity in desperate need of support.”
The World Cup was originally established in 1982 by A.V. Jim Edwards and James Manclark with only two teams contesting the first game in a Test Match between Scotland and Nepal. Within two years the World Cup had grown to eight teams.
Originally light footballs were used so as to make it easier to strike the ball with double-length horse polo sticks, but that was quickly changed to normal polo balls as the elephants quite enjoyed popping the footballs! They now use a standard polo ball, which has made the sport more skilled and faster.
Elephant polo is very much about the elephants, especially in terms of raising funds for elephant welfare and building global awareness of their plight in countries such as Thailand, where many have been left redundant (by anti-logging laws) and are often used for ceremonial purposes in cities far away from their natural habitat.