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Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage (Sri Lanka)
Member Name: MollyWH
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage (Sri Lanka)
Advantages: seeing the elephants in the watering hole
Disadvantages: I didnt like the noisy area
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.
Summary: Perfect Pinnawela