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In Thailand, a white elephant fit for a new king

Updated : 2019-05-01 10:54:52

A large portrait of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn dominates one end of the open-air enclosure where an elephant known as Plai Ekachai starts his day at a conservation center in the country's northeast.

Since last year, the 33-year-old male elephant has been treated with reverence as a deity after being identified as the first auspicious white elephant to be discovered under the reign of King Rama X, as the monarch is also known.

The elephant is to be presented as a gift to the new king sometime after this weekend's coronation ceremonies, the first the country will have seen in 69 years.

"There is no greater merit than to raise such an elephant for the king," says Thanabadee Promsook, 35, who runs the center housing nine other regular elephants.

Thanabadee refers to the elephant as "His Highness" and kneels before him daily. "Plai" in Thai means male elephant.

Elephants classified as white in Thailand are not necessarily albino or solid white but are more pale in colour than normal and are rare and especially revered.

They are regarded as a symbol of kingship and treated as deities, mainly due to the mythical white elephant Airavata, or Erawan as Thais call him, who is the vehicle of Indra, king of the Hindu gods.

A family has a photo taken with Plai Ekachai, 33, who will become the first “white” elephant to be discovered under the reign of King Rama X, also known as Maha Vajiralongkorn, in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A family has a photo taken with Plai Ekachai, 33, who will become the first “white” elephant to be discovered under the reign of King Rama X, also known as Maha Vajiralongkorn, in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33, who will become the first “white” elephant to be discovered under the reign of King Rama X, also known as Maha Vajiralongkorn, eats his breakfast in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33, who will become the first “white” elephant to be discovered under the reign of King Rama X, also known as Maha Vajiralongkorn, eats his breakfast in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 has a shower after his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 has a shower after his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A man makes an offering to Plai Ekachai, 33 in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A man makes an offering to Plai Ekachai, 33 in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 is seen in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 is seen in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A man makes an offering to Plai Ekachai, 33, in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A man makes an offering to Plai Ekachai, 33, in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 does his daily walking exercise in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 is seen in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. The sign in front of him reportedly reads no photography. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
Plai Ekachai, 33 is seen in Maha Sarakham, Thailand April 25, 2019. The sign in front of him reportedly reads no photography. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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