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White elephants, mahouts pay respects to late Thai king

Associated Press Associated Press 8/11/2016
Mahouts lead a procession of 11 white elephants past the Grand Palace in honor of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. King Bhumibol died on Oct. 13 after reigning for 70 years, plunging the country into grief and extended mourning. The official mourning period is one year. (AP Photo/Mark Baker) © The Associated Press Mahouts lead a procession of 11 white elephants past the Grand Palace in honor of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. King Bhumibol died on Oct. 13 after reigning for 70 years, plunging the country into grief and extended mourning. The official mourning period is one year. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

BANGKOK — While tens of thousands of mourners have paid their respects to Thailand's late king at Bangkok's Grand Palace, where his body is being kept before cremation, a different kind of visitor appeared in front of the palace gates Tuesday.

Some 200 mahouts leading nine, specially chosen white elephants and two white-painted elephants arrived at the palace from around the country.

The tusked giants and their riders kneeled in front of the palace gates in a sign of respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last month at age 88 after reigning for 70 years, while the royal anthem was played on a lone trumpet.

Mourners waiting to enter the palace cried as they witnessed the elephants' prostrating.

In Thailand, the white elephant is regarded as sacred and a symbol of royal power, according to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. The white elephant was on Thailand's national flag until 1917, but the symbol is still found on the ensign of the Royal Thai Navy. Historically, the statuses of kings were evaluated by the number of white elephants in their possession.

Ittipan Kaolamai, manager of the Royal Elephant Kraal and Village in Ayutthaya province, said nine elephants in Tuesday's procession were white and two were painted, presumably to maintain conformity.

He said one of the two spray-painted elephants carried a portrait of Bhumibol on its back and the other carried a drummer.

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