Elephant Orphans

A day trip to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage just outside of Kandy was a pretty cool experience and something a little different to usual temple trampling.

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Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is more than just an orphanage to Asian elephants. It is also a captive breeding site and an active nursery. Located in a small town conveniently named Pinnawala, and not too far from Kandy in central Sri Lanka, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is known as having the largest collection of captive elephants on the planet within its 25 acre site. Some people will scoff at that title, partly down to concerns of animal welfare), but I was very impressed with the care and consideration that is shown to these naturally gentle creatures. I can also confirm that there are plenty of elephants here, and to my surprise they all seemed very, very happy in their tropical surroundings. The Orphanage was created in 1972 and in the ensuing few decades it seems the elephants have thrived here as much as the local tourism industry (which incidentally has only appeared due to the elephants anyway)!

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I was told that among the 83 elephants living here in March 2014, there were three generations of elephants living and coexisting at Pinnawala, and the frolicking of the babies and their parents (and potentially grandparents) in the water together was a great sight. Playtime for these elephants really means PLAYTIME, and we watched on from the riverbanks as they bathed and socialised with each other.

Tourists can get up close and personal
Tourists can get up close and personal

All admission fees to enter Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage are used to help upkeep the facilities and to provide directly to the elephants themselves. This is great to know, as I always enjoy responsibly contributing to the welfare of animals when I am backpacking, and the $15 admission price was therefore fairly acceptable (although it must be said that in Sri Lanka you are routinely overcharged as a “foreigner”, but that’s another story…). I had much the same positive experience regarding animal welfare at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary near Luang Prabang in Laos, and it must be said that the care and attentiveness on display here at Pinnawala was even greater. You can see the staff perform their daily routines on the elephants, such as bottle feeding the babies (no photos regretfully), and herding them from position to position within the site.

Just a remark about taking photos here at Pinnawala. I was forced to pay the mahout (the term for elephant handler) a small fee every time I wanted to take a photo. Of course, I didn’t pay him EVERYTIME, but expect to part with some Sri Lankan Rupees every time you attempt to use the camera.

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