The First White Elephant of the King Was Found by My Wife’s Great-Grandfather

There is a famous picture of His Majesty with his beloved first ever white elephant named Phra Sawet Adulyadej Phahnon. It’s a male born about 1951, found in a forest in Lam Thap District, Krabi Province in 1956 by my wife’s great-grandfather Pleum Sutthiked (นายปลื้ม สุทธิเกิด). At that time, he was still a young bull attached to his mother in a wild elephant herd. In a perfect world this rare elephant would never leave the forest. But if there is someone who would take good care of an elephant, it is the King. Phra Sawet Adulyadej Phahnon died in 2009 at age 58.

thai-king-white-elephantHis Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej with his first ever white elephant Phra Sawet Adulyadej Phahnon.

White elephants are very rare and considered sacred in Thailand and Buddhism. All of Thailand’s 10 known white elephants (six males and four females) belong to the King and are kept in captivity at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang. All of these were wild-born, as it is forbidden to breed white elephants. Until 1917 there was a white elephant on the flag of Thailand.

Actually, a white elephant is not really white. The skin is usually soft reddish-brown, turning light pink, not black, when wet. Their eyelashes and toenails are also fairer than normal elephants.

When my wife’s great-grandfather died twenty years ago, the King sent flowers to the funeral ceremony.

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