Rare 'white' elephant captured in Burma

Keepers escort a white elephant in Thailand (file photo)
Image caption White elephants often look reddish-brown in the sun

A rare "white elephant", a traditional symbol of good fortune and power in south-east Asia, has been captured in Burma, state media reports.

Reports say the 2m (6.5ft) female elephant was tracked down in Maungdaw in the west of the country.

White elephants are only nominally white - they often look reddish-brown in the sun, and light pink when wet.

Analysts say the animal is likely to be brought to the capital, Naypyidaw, for the military ruler, General Than Shwe.

With elections due this year under terms the country's opposition considers unacceptable, Burma's military rulers have been hunting for their good omen for some time now, says the BBC's Viv Marsh.

When locals sighted a white elephant earlier this year in the jungle in Rakhine state, a unit of the Ministry of Forestry was sent to scour the area and find it, the New Light of Myanmar reported.

'Great blessings'

Their prize - a female aged about 38, was captured on 26 June, said the news agency.

The Thailand-based charity Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation said it would normally object to elephants being held in captivity, but made an exception for white elephants, which are traditionally kept in pampered conditions.

"The white elephant is a sign of great blessings and fortune for the land," spokeswoman Soraida Salwala told the Associated Press news agency.

White elephants have historically been owned and revered by Burmese leaders - Gen Than Shwe has never had one of his own, although Burma's leaders travel in aircraft called White Elephants 1 and 2.

In English and some other languages, a white elephant also means a useless structure, and a needlessly expensive burden.

The generals may hope their new trophy - and their own fortunes - are not blighted by linguistic association, says our correspondent.

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