CHITWAN, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- Unlike other parts of Nepal, professional football is not as popular as elephant football in Sauraha, Chitwan, about 170 km south of Kathmandu.
On Saturday, the crowd watched mesmerized twin elephants born in Chitwan National Park in 2009, competing against each other as part of the country's elephant festival.
Football's, literally, most heavyweight tournament entertained the flock of locals and foreigners attending the five-day event held from Dec. 26 to 30. "Elephants start practising football two months before the festival kicks off. We choose young elephants because they run faster," Rajendra Panuwar, in charge of the elephant breeding centre, told Xinhua.
"Sometimes I have the impression that jumbos are smarter than humans!," he said.
Guided by their driver, or mahout, elephant twins stole the show displaying tricks worthy of the FIFA Ballon d'Or. Elephant twins occur very rarely, and due to the nutritional needs placed on the mother, their survival rates are often low.
The annual elephant festival is aimed at raising awareness of wildlife conservation. For thousands of years in Nepal, humans and elephants have lived side by side but the balance is now being threatened as they increasingly compete for resources.
Undomesticated elephants continue to rampage, demolishing human settlements and raiding crops. The human-elephant connection, rather than conflict, is therefore one of the most interesting aspects of elephant football.
"This is the 10th edition of the Chitwan Elephant Festival which is aimed at promoting safari tourism in the region. Our objective is also to spread the message that humans and wildlife can peacefully coexist," Keshab Paudel, managing director of the Chitwan Elephant Festival, told Xinhua.
Along with drilling elephant football matches and running races, the festival also features an elephant beauty contest, horse and ox cart races as well as cultural shows with the Tharu - the indigenous community living in and around Sauraha in Chitwan.