“ Elephant orphanage founded in 1975 in Sri Lanka. „
My friend and I went on an Elephant and Spices Tour of Sri Lanka. We had a fully packed itinery and in the 10 days we were there, I would like to think that we saw most of the main sights to beautiful island has to offer. A highlight of my holiday was a visit to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage.
Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage
Pinnawela is situated near the town of Kegella, halfway between the capitol of Columbo and the town of Kandy. Pinnawela was established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department. It was initially set up because elephants had become endangered, mainly because of people hunting them for their tusks, and party because of farmers killing them to protect their land and crops. Many baby elephants were found abandoned because their family had been killed. In the 70's, killing and elephant in Sri Lanka became outlawed and so began the wonderful work at Pinnawela.
Pinnawela covers 24 acres and is also a breeding centre for elephants as well as taking in abandoned or injured elephants. Pinnawela boasts the largest herd of elephants in captivy in the world. The elephants are all trained to become working elephants, which in turn help the local people. Elephants that are born here are fitted with tracking devices and released into National Parks to live a free life.
Obviously our trip to the elephant orphanage was all included in the itinery that we booked. However, we did speak to various other couples while we were on holiday and we were informed that it is fairly easy to take local transport to the orphanage although obviously the price will vary depending on where you are staying and how close to the orphanage you are. Every local person in Sri Lanka will know where the Orphanage is as it is one of the islands main attractions.
The Actual Visit
We arrived at the orphanage around noon and were informed by our guide that the elephants would be making one of their daily trips to the watering hole. We made our way down to the watering hole by means of a dusty track. Then we proceeded down about 30 steps and the full extent of the orphanage became apparent. The watering hole is absolutely huge and just near the entrance to it, are lots of rocky areas which visitors are allowed to sit on to relax and enjoy the privilege of watching the beautiful giant creatures. We made our way right to the front of the rocks, even though there appeared to be loads of people there, for example, in our group alone there were 28 people, it wasn't a problem getting to the front. From here, we were allowed 45 minutes to just sit and observe the elephants. Although there were keepers in the water with them, they were mainly there to ensure the elephants didn't wander too far. Having said that, a small group made their way right across the other side of the lake and were happily smearing themselves in bright orange mud!
There were several men stood near the water who were offering bags on bananas for the equivalent of 50p a bag. If you bought a bag, as we did, the men then take you down to the edge of the water where you are allowed to feed the elephants. This is all supervised so you are perfectly safe but you are warned that these animals are semi wild and care must be taken. There were several elephants near to where we were taken and we fed them our bag of bananas. It was an amazing experience and we even got to feed some of the babies. I would strongly advise doing this! Also in the watering hole, was an elephant named Sama who had part of her front leg blown off when she stepped on a land mine. The orphanage went and rescued her and she has been living there ever since and has adapted very well to her leg being around 6 inches shorter than the others.
After watching the elephants in the watering hole, we made our way to the restaurant for lunch (more about this later). After lunch we went over to another area within the orphanage where we could see the baby elephants being fed on coconut leaves. Personally I didn't enjoy this particular section very much as the elephants were chained within a large concrete area, with all the visitors gathered around watching them. For me, this area was too noisy and it didn't feel very natural for the baby elephants, having hundreds of noisy people stood watching them, when they couldn't really move away from us if the wished to do so. Needless to say, I only stood in this area for about 5 minutes.
After this, we walked across to another section of the orphanage - the grazing land. This is where you can see the elephants in their most natural state, in herds, just grazing the land. Obviously you are not allowed to just walk in amongst the elephants and there are signs up telling you where you can and can't walk and there are members of staff to ensure you stick to the relevant areas. In this section, you can pay the staff a small tip (although you don't actually HAVE to, they kind of pester you for it and are happy with around 50p) and then you are allowed, with their guidance to stand near one of the elephants and have your photo taken, which of course we did. In the far end of this section, there was a female elephant who had been left blind after farmers threw a homemade bomb at her when she was on their land. Local monks came across the elephant, totally lost and badly injured and called the elephant orphanage to help. She has now been living at the orphanage for 12 years. At the time we visited, she was kept separate, away from the other elephants and again, you could pay the staff a small tip and have your photo taken with her. Personally I didn't do this as I felt she was being used as a bit of a tourist attraction. I spoke to my guide later about it and asked if she is always kept separate and he told me that she is allowed within the herds and is accepted, with the others looking after her.
As I already said, we visited at noon so we got to see the elephants at the watering hole. There is however, a daily itinery at the elephant orphanage so depending on when you visit, you will see something different happening. At the time we visited, the daily itinery consisted of the following;
8am - the baby elephants being bottle fed their milk and allowed to roam the 12 acres of grassland within the orphanage.
10am - the elephants are walked down the watering hole and allowed to bath, play and roam in the water for around 2 hours.
2pm - the elephants make their second trip to the watering hole.
Between 4.30pm - 6pm - the elephants are taken to their stalls and tethered for the night. It is here that they are given their evening feeds, and the babies are once again given their milk. Each elephant gets around 75kg of green matter a day, along with a 2kg mix of maize, rice bran and seeds.
As our trip to the orphanage was part of an itinery, we also had lunch included with that. The restaurant was beautiful and the seating meant that you could overlook the watering hole as you ate. Our lunch was served in a buffet style and was one of the yummiest meals we had while we were out there, all Sri Lankan curried, rice dishes and a few sweets. I am vegetarian and there was a lot of choice on the menu for me.
There are also toilets located in the restaurant which were very clean.
There are around 20 stalls / shops selling a whole variety of souvenirs. There was one shop that sold elephant dung products, where the elephant dung is processed until it becomes paper and there were items such as note books, pretty boxes and calendars available. I really liked this idea. At the main entrance to the orphanage, there is an official elephant orphanage shop and you are advised to buy something in this shop, because the proceeds go straight back into the orphanage. Although I didn't actually buy anything, there were some lovely items in the shop and they were only slightly more expensive than the stalls which sold the same items which I didn't mind because the money went straight to the elephants.
If you are taking a camera or video camera into the elephant orphanage, you are required to pay a small fee. If I remember right, it was about £1 for a camera and £2 for a video camera. You are allowed to take photos in every section and I would strongly advise doing this as I have a whole album of memories from here.
As you have probably guessed, I would highly recommend a trip to the Elephant Orphanage. Personally, I think it is important to spend money visiting an attraction like this because it helps to put money into the cause. I thought that we had ample time here, probably around 3 hours including lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the elephants play around in the watering hole and during our visit, our guide informed us of all the good work that happens at the orphanage, how it came about and their success stories. Some of the keepers hold nasty looking sticks (basically a stick with a big hook on the end) which worried me a bit at first as I wouldn't have liked to have seen one being used on the elephants but it soon became apparent that they had these in case anything major happened, like the elephants began to stampede etc. In our time there, I didn't see a keeper using it once. If you visit Sri Lanka, you must take a trip to Pinnawela.
THIS WAS THE WORST PART OF OUR TRIP TO SRI LANKA. THESE ELEPHANTS ARE NOT ALL ORPHANS ...THEY ARE BRED TO MAKE MONEY.....THEY ARE UNDERFED AND THIS IS CLEARLY VISIBLE,THERE BONES STICK OUT...THEY ARE POKED AND PRODDED WITH LARGE STICKS...AND RECENTLY A LARGE BULL WAS KILLED BY KEEPERS (READ THE NEWS). THEY ARE ONLY INTERESTED IN MONEY. IF YOU WANT TO SEE ELEPHANTS IN SRI LANKA GO TO THE NATIONAL PARK AND SEE THE WILD AND LOOKING WELL FED .
Standing drenched in the pouring rain on my honeymoon to Sri Lanka, I will never forget the surreal moment a large herd of elephants marched past me, swinging their trunks triumphantly in anticipation of the instant relief the watering hole would bring.
Their presence was magnificant, and their elegent stature extraordinary, as they clumped their enormous feet, causing clouds of dust to bellow around us humble spectators, who were marvelling at being just inches away from these unexpectedly graceful creatures.
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is home to over 50 abused, injured or motherless elephants who have been brought to this refuge to live out their days with some dignity. Most of the elephants roam freely across the rugged 24 acre site and are looked after by trained keepers, called mahouts.
Unfortunately, due to the greed and rapid development of the human race, much of the elephants natural habitat has been destroyed hence one of the main reasons they are here. Other contributing factors are the past demand for tusk products and subsequent hunting, trends which are thankfully no longer legal or popular in Sri Lanka.
There is a successful breeding programme in place at Pinnawela, to aid continuation of the species, and as a result there are plenty of adorable babies to see. They are always hugely popular with visitors and it's easy to see why, since they are lacking the nervousness and caution displayed by some of the elephants who have been treated badly. Their natural friendliness and trust is both endearing and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Walking around the site it is incredible to see so many elephants in a simulated natural environment, all in one place. There is an aura of calm and peace here, and the setting is beautiful if a little rough around the edges, which is of course how it should be. Although tranquil, this gloss was tarnished slightly by a few unsettling incidents which were probably unavoidable.
One of these came in the form of the unfortunate tourist attraction which is a very old, blind elephant who is tethered with the intention of allowing travellers to have their photo taken with her for a fee.
I felt really sorry for this old girl, but had to concede that this existence is probably far superior to the life she could have had, especially when elephants are seen as a major pest in Sri Lanka since they destroy valuable crops.
Another thing that upset me was seeing an obviously distressed elephant tied up and separated from her curious and outgoing baby, who was revelling in the gathered crowds adoration. It was sad that while the baby was cooed over, the mother was largely ignored. When I attempted to question one of the Mahouts about this, he tried to explain in broken English that she was contained for her own protection, so maybe there was a reason for this such as anti-social behaviour or illness. I hope so.
In cases like these it seems unlikely that such a refuge would choose to inhibit or restrain the very creatures it sets out to protect. Sadly it makes more sense to assume that some of the elephants have been so badly treated that they now exhibit agressive and unpredictable behaviour and are chained up to prevent danger.
Another thing a potential visitor should be aware of is one of the methods used to control the elephants. Mahouts have long metal prongs which they use to poke the animals when they want them to move. This instrument looks medieval and barbaric but is very traditional in its use, and does not seem to upset the animals when it is used.
So back to a happier focus, as the centre is mainly a grass environment, there is little in the way of proper food for the animals, so supplies are brought in daily and they then feast hungrily on jackfruit, coconut, tamarind and various grasses as well as the all important milk for the little ones.
Every day at set times the group are herded down to the river, which is a five minute walk away, and there they can splash and play and squirt water at each other which is a joy to see, and a once in a lifetime experience. Visitors can accompany the elephants at a safe distance and there is nothing quite like sipping a sharp, sweet lime juice from the veranda of the hotel there, while watching the herd cooling down from the sun, which luckily came through for us just in time!
As this orphanage has one of the largest collection of elephants in the world it stands to reason that it attracts interest from specialists and is the subject of much research, recently so when students from the University of Austria gathered comprehensive information there.
Located about 80 km northeast of Colombo, this attraction is funded partly by the government and partly through its entrance fees. It was certainly one of the highlights of our tour and I would recommend anyone to go there, even if just to make up their own mind about the pros and cons of such a venture. I dread to think what would happen to abused animals if places like this failed to exist, so feel it should be supported wherever possible.
Elephant orphanage founded in 1975 in Sri Lanka.