Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player


The Thai Elephant Conservation Center is proud to hold the sacred trust of housing and caring for all ten of His Majesty King Bhumibol's ten white elephants. All six males are kept at the TECC, and four females are kept in Sakol Nakorn province. (White elephants are not allowed to breed, and thus nearly all are wild caught.) Given these elephants' holy nature, the Royal Stable is not normally open to the public, though some of the elephants are shown to the public on special occasions.

Why are white elephants so important in Thai culture? Essentially, white elephants are believed to be vital to the wellbeing and prosperity of the Kingdom. A major war ensued in 1549 when the king of Burma demanded seven white elephants belonging to King Mahachakkaphat of Ayutthaya, who was called Lord of the White Elephants. A white elephant was on the national flag until 1917, and a white elephant still emblazons the ensign of the Royal Thai Navy.

The term 'white elephant' is very confusing in two ways. First, the English expression 'white elephant' means something that is ostensibly of great value but in fact a heavy burden, whereas to Thai people these animals are of inexpressible worth. (All 'white elephants' must be gifted to the King.) Second, these 'white elephants' are not white at all, not even being, as is commonly misunderstood, albinos. Even to elephant experts they look very much like normal, gray elephants. Nonetheless, even Thai people commonly but incorrectly call these animals 'albino elephants' rather than the proper term, chang samkhan, which actually translates as 'auspicious elephant'.

Only palace experts can determine what qualifies as an auspicious elephant and then assign it a rank. Using ancient and arcane rules, experts classify auspicious elephants into one of four families - each family having its home in a mythological forest in the Himalayas - and then, using seven basic criteria, assign them hierarchical ranks.

Thailand's auspicious elephants were until 30 years ago kept in cramped conditions in Chitralada Palace in Bangkok, but now each has its own green, airy day quarters and an opulent stall where it is taken every night. (Above are two photos each of Wanpen, Thongsuk, Sawetsawilat, Sawetsurakasin, Yodphet, and Khwanmeuang.)

A very dated but interesting description of auspicious elephants can be found at http://www.mahidol.ac.th/thailand/elephant.html

Print Friendly and PDF