Wednesday, May 8, 2013 3:54:00 PM | by Nicole Hill
An elephant cradles a ball in its trunk during a soccer match
Celebrating all things elephant: An elephant cradles a soccer ball in its trunk during an exhibition soccer match held Dec. 28, 2012, in Sauraha, a village in the Nepalese district of Chitwan, about 100 miles south of Kathmandu. The Chitwan Elephant Festival brings together the massive mammals and their mahouts (riders) to participate in a variety of activities.
Mahouts guide their mounts
Ball in play: Mahouts guide their mounts during Sauraha's man-and-beast soccer match.
Spectators watch an elephant soccer match
Watching the pitch: Spectators line the field to take in the match.
An elephant race in Chitwan
Sprinting giants: The Chitwan Elephant Festival also includes a pachyderm race.
An elephant chases a soccer ball
Stars of the show: The festival is intended to draw attention to the plight of the Asian elephant, whose numbers are dwindling.
Nepalese children running on a soccer field
Getting a good view: Local children run to watch the elephants play soccer in Suaraha.
A referee gives instructions to a mahout
Calling the match: A referee gives instructions to a mahout during an exhibition soccer game. Sauraha is an international tourist draw because of its elephants and its proximity to Nepal's Chitwan National Park.
Mahouts and their elephants vie for the soccer ball
A sizable scrum: Mahouts and their elephants vie for the soccer ball. Sauraha boasts an elephant breeding center; according to the festival website, it is one of only three such facilities in the world.
Mahouts guide their elephants after a ball
The scramble is on: Elephants like these are key to the Chitwan district's tourism industry. The festival was conceived as a way to bring attention to the massive animals.
Match spectators touch an elephant's trunk
Hands-on experience: Spectators reach out to some to the participants in the elephant soccer match in Sauraha. The festival aims to attract tourists to the region to promote harmony between people and animals.
Mahouts and their mounts compete over a ball.
Having a ball: Human and animal soccer players take part in the 2011 Chitwan Elephant Festival match.
A mahout's sandaled foot appears behind an elephant's ear
In Thailand, elephants also play polo: Here, a mahout sits on his mount during the championship game of the 11th annual King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, held Sept. 16, 2012, in Hua Hin, southwest of Bangkok. The charity tournament raises funds for elephant conservation and features Thai mahouts and competitors from more than 30 countries competing on 12 teams.
Opposing elephant polo teams vie for the ball
Vying for the prize: Audemars Piguet team's Angad Kaalan, right, tries to outmaneuver Thanasin Chuawangkham from the King Power team during the championship game of the 2012 King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament.
Mahouts run with a baby elephant
Celebrating the new year: Mahouts run with a baby elephant during an elephant race staged as part of a traditional festival celebrating the Sinhala, Hindu and Tamil New Year in Homagama, Sri Lanka, on April 28. Sri Lankans observe the New Year on April 14, with celebrations held throughout the month.
An elephant's hide painted for a beauty contest
In their finest: The Chitwan Elephant Festival also includes a beauty contest. This participant, shown on Dec. 27, 2012, even has its toenails painted for the occasion.
A mahout's foot dangles over the flank of an elephant
Gathering in celebration: A mahout and elephant prepare to participate in the Chitwan Elephant Festival in Sauraha on Dec. 26, 2012.
Mahouts prepare to race their elephants
Getting ready to run: Mahouts and their mounts prepare to take part in the elephant race held as part of the 2012 Chitwan Elephant Festival.
A racing elephant nears the finish
With the end in sight: An elephant nears the finish in the 2012 elephant race event in Sauraha, Nepal.
An elephant places a garland on a beauty contest judge
Accepting the honor: An elephant places a garland on a judge during the elephant beauty contest in Sauraha on Dec. 28, 2011. Elephants are decorated for the pageant.
Three elephants vie for a soccer ball
A huge draw: Elephants vie for a ball during the 2011 man-and-beast soccer match in Sauraha. The village is an ecotourism magnet, drawing an estimated 100,000 visitors a year, according to the festival's website, and the area's elephants are their main focus.
Judges examine an adorned elephant
All dolled up: Judges rate an adorned elephant during an elephant beauty contest in Sauraha.
Elephants and mahouts charge a soccer ball
Heavy competition: Mahouts and their mounts vie for a ball during the Chitwan Elephant Festival's exhibition soccer match in Sauraha. As adults, the pachyderms stand 10 feet or taller at the shoulder and weight around 4 tons.
Locals line the parade route as an elephant passes
A time of celebration: The Chitwan Elephant Festival also includes a parade. Here, locals line the route as a participant passes by.
A mahout displays his adorned elephant for a beauty contest
Dressed to the nines: A mahout displays his adorned elephant during an elephant beauty contest in Chitwan.
Women arrive to participate in a parade of elephants
Tharu women gather to participate in a parade, among the events of the Chitwan Elephant Festival in Sauraha.
An elephant tries to kick a soccer ball
Heavy foot: An elephant tries to kick a ball during a soccer match on the final day of the festivities at Sauraha.
Two elephants compete for controll of the ball
With a kick and a nudge from their trunks, elephants square off for the ball in Chitwan.
A mahout cheers after scoring a goal
Making a point: A mahout cheers after scoring a goal during a soccer match.
Mahouts and their elephants chase a soccer ball
Thundering herd: Mahouts and their elephants chase a ball in Sauraha.
A mahout displays his adorned elephant
One elegant elephant: A mahout displays his adorned elephant during a Chitwan Elephant Festival beauty contest.
Spectators watch the end of an elephant race
Cue the theme from 'Chariots of Fire': People watch as elephants run to the finish line during an elephant race in Sauraha.
Elephants approach the finish line during the Sauraha Elephant Race
Get the Gatorade: Elephants are moments from the finish line in Sauraha.
An elephant's trunk during the Elephant Race event at Sauraha
Trunk show: An elephant's trunk is pictured during a Chitwan Elephant Festival event in Sauraha.
A red tika on the forehead of an elephant beauty contestant
Mark of a winner? A scarlet tika on the forehead of an elephant beauty contestant.
Mahouts and their elephants run after a ball during a soccer match
The heat is on: Mahouts and their elephants chase after a ball during a soccer match on the final day of the festivities in Sauraha.
Indian elephant trainers participating in elephant race
Tight heat: Indian elephant trainers participating in an elephant race on the final day of the rural games, also called the Rural Olympics, at Kila Raipur, near Ludhiana in India's northern state of Punjab. The annual event, started in 1933, encourages rural sports. Participants show off their unusual skills during the three-day event.
NFL Europe football team players in a tug-of-war with an elephant
Equally matched? Players from Rhein Fire, a team in the former NFL Europe football league, take part in tug-of-war against female elephant Daisy in Duisburg Zoo in Germany on May 9, 2005.