In Thailand’s history, the white elephant could also be given as a gift. This would be considered a great honor, and you’d have to be seen as someone awfully special to get one. Sounds pretty neat, right? But, there were a couple of things to be wary of when receiving a gift of this magnitude.
The first catch is that the white elephant could only be given to you from someone with money or power. How else would someone afford to have an elephant in the first place? So, when you get a gift from someone with influence, you can’t very easily get rid of it. And this wasn’t like a sweater you could stuff in the closet or a bread maker to re-gift at the next wedding you’re invited to. I mean, it’s a big ass elephant we’re talking about! Even their babies are huge! And, trying to get rid of it would not only be noticed, but seen as a personal insult to the giver of the gift.
The second problem is that it costs a lot to be the owner of an elephant. Think of the resources necessary to keep this kind of pet! Adult elephants can eat up to 600 pounds of food daily! Zoos say a single elephant needs over 2,000 square feet of outdoor and indoor space to remain healthy. And, the amount of time to train, clean, feed, exercise and care for an elephant would be a full time job! Furthermore, the average lifespan of an Asian Elephant is around sixty years!
Rumor has it, kings and rulers would give the white elephant as a gift in a passive aggressive way to financially knock a rival or usurper out of the competition if they felt the up and comer was a potential threat. Imagine, working your way up the ladder, just to be knocked into ruin by a white elephant gift!