White elephants: A shade of distinction in royal Thai tradition | Bangkok Post: news

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White elephants: A shade of distinction in royal Thai tradition

The animals have long been thought to bring merit to King and country, but determining their authenticity is no simple matter and mahouts charged with caring for them consider the duty a tremendous honour

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In the morning mist behind a small village in Tak's Umphang National Park, a 30-year-old elephant emerged and walked towards a group of people eager to see if it was actually a white elephant as had been reported. 

LABOUR OF LOVE: Mahouts at the Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre bathe a ‘Chang Ton’ elephant.PHOTO: THE ELEPHANT CONSERVATION CENTRE/ THE ROYAL HOUSEHOLD BUREAU

As it approached, ML Phiphatanachatr Diskul, a veterinarian attached to the Royal Household Bureau, instructed the mahout sitting on the elephant's neck to command it to kneel down. He then began carefully examining the elephant for seven indicators listed under the 1921 Wild Elephants Preservation Law to determine if this was indeed a genuine white elephant. Those indicators are white eyes, palate, nails, hair, tail, genitals and white or earthen coloured skin.

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