The 2012 King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament started with a grand opening ceremony in the seaside town of Hua Hin, located 160km south of the Thailand capital Bangkok. The charity event, first introduced to Thailand in 2001 by Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas, is now in its eleventh year and has become one of the most famous tournaments in the world.

The 2012 tournament, which is on till 16 September, will see 16 international teams participating with 50 Thai elephants. During the opening ceremony, Thai performers dressed in traditional outfits paraded with the elephants to the venue, at Hua Hin's Suriyothai Army Base.

The prime attraction of the tournament this year includes the presence of New Zealand All Blacks Robin Brooke, Olo Brown and Adrian Cashmore, who will compete with European royals - Prince Carl-Eugen Oettingen-Wallerstein and his wife Princess Anna and daughter Princess Joanna. While the event offers a lot of entertainment to the tourists and spectators, it is intended to raise money for conservation works.

"The eleventh year of the tournament promises to be bigger and better in terms of teams, fun and activities," Bill Heinecke, owner of Anantara, said in a statement, "But we must never forget the true meaning of holding the event and that is to make a considerable donation to the conservation and welfare of the Thailand elephant population and this year we are determined to raise more money than ever."

According to the tournament's official Web site, the event has raised more than £300,000 (over $500,000) in the past ten years. The collection from the tournament goes to charity for the conservation of the thriving elephant population in Thailand. Donations from last year's tournament have been used for several betterment projects.

"Fundraising from last year's event has been donated to three projects in Thailand. The first is to continue to support research and clinics using elephants in therapy sessions for children in Thailand living with autism. In addition, the money raised has also been used to launch the first and only elephant hospital in southern Thailand, as well as a human-elephant conflict project between the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) and the Elephant Conservation Network (ECN) charity who works in a wildlife reserve in Kanchanaburi," an official statement elaborated.

The funds from the 2012 King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament also aided the planting of about 4,000 trees in Hua Hin to shelter elephant corridors from electric fencing in the area.

Check out a few photographs of the opening ceremony of the 11th King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament.