All four feet and even trunks are good for scoring if you are an elephant playing football in Nepal, where a three-day elephant festival came to an end on Wednesday.
Two teams, each made up of four elephants, underwent weeks of training before the game, taking time off their usual routine, which is to carry tourists through the heart of the jungle in the Chitwan National Park in central Nepal.
Despite their huge size, the elephants played with a regular ball, which they had learnt to kick and strike with their trunks. The elephants mastered passing and shooting – as well as some of football’s darker arts such as blocking and pushing each other for control of the play. Fortunately, there was none of the diving that is often seen during football matches these days.
“Training the elephants to play soccer was not easy but they learned the basic command. They understood they need to hit the ball when I yell 'kick' at them,” Basudev Mahato, an elephant mahout told the Associated Press.
The three-day elephant festival in Nepal also featured a pageant, during which elephants showed off their polished toenails and patterns painted in colored chalk, as well as a 300-meter race and several more events.
Now into its eighth year, the festival is held annually to help conserve the Asian elephant and promote tourism. Nepal is struggling to lure tourists back as the Himalayan country is slowly recovering from the ten-year Maoist civil war, which ended in 2006 and claimed over 12,000 lives.