I’m fascinated by Elephants. Though I’m utterly afraid of them, I have a lot of love and respect towards these majestic creatures. And without question, I would jump at an opportunity to spend some time with them! If you’re up in Kandy and it’s not Perahara season, the best place to go see Elephants is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
The Asian Elephant is smaller than the African elephant. But, it’s still the largest land animal living in Asia. Given the scientific name Elephas Maximus, Elephants have been part and parcel of Sri Lankan culture and heritage. These gentle giants who roamed abundantly during the time of our ancient kings have now been listed as endangered on the Red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Established in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is dedicated towards protecting Elephants. The 25 acre site adjacent to the Maha Oya River functions as an orphanage, nursery, and captive breeding ground for Elephants.Nestled into the village of Pinnawala, the orphanage is about 13 km away from the Kegalle town, and also happens to be home to the largest herd of captive Elephants in the world.
It’s quite easy to get to the Elephant Orphanage, just take the Colombo -Kandy main road,and turn off into the road that leads to Ramkukkana at the 82nd km post. There are large sign boards indicating the turn off, so you won’t miss it. Or else you can always use Google Maps! If you’re taking the train, you need to get down at the Rambukkana railway station, and take a bus or tuk-tuk.
The orphanage is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Entrance tickets are priced at LKR 100 for adults, and LKR 30 for children between the age of 3-12.I recommend going to Pinnawala as early as possible. This will allow you to find a good parking spot close to the entrance, and also enjoy time with the Elephants before it gets warmer towards mid-day. And the lighting during the morning hours is perfect for photographs!
When you walk into the park, you can find your way to a large open space where you will find the elephants romping around in the mud. You can spend some time watching the Elephants play in the mud, and if the Mahouts are around they will “invite” you to come close and pet the Elephants, and feed them fruits. While watching them go about their business, I noticed that there was one Elephant who was using a stick to scratch its back!! Fascinating don’t you think? There are certain Elephants who are kept separate from the herd. Enjoy their beauty from a far but don’t try to get too close to them as they tend to be quite aggressive! Oh, and the Mahouts are pretty aggressive too. Listen to their instructions or you’ll get an ear full!!
In 1997 a three and a half year old Elephant was found abandoned in the forest near Maradankadawala-Thirippaane. He was brought to the orphanage and given the name “Sumana”. Now, one of the most enigmatic attractions, Sumana has grown up to be a magnificent tusker! Unlike the African Elephant, tuskers are rare amongst Asian Elephants. Only male Asian Elephants bare tusks, out of which roughly 5% of the subspecies of the Asian Elephant found in Sri Lanka, have tusks.
When a male Elephants reaches a certain age, they leave the herd and wander around by themselves. Thus, the leadership of the herd is held by a female Elephant. The herd at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is no different; it is led by Mithalee one of the five founder members of the orphanage. The oldest member of the herd is Kumari. Also one of the five founder members, Kumari was the first elephant to give birth within the premises.
Visitors have the opportunity to feed fruits to the elephants. Feeding time is from 9:00 am to 9:45 am and again from 12:00 noon to 1:45 PM. There are designated locations where you can feed an assortment of fruits to the giants under the watchful eye of the Mahout. Baby elephants are fed milk in a separate location. This daily ritual is what most visitors yearn to see. Thus, as soon as the announcement is made they rush to the “milk feeding place” (yes, this is what is written on the sign board) and gather around to watch the staff bottle feed the calves. Whilst the calves are fed, the staff also explains to the audience the importance of feeding milk to baby Elephants.
Next we were off to the river bank to watch the elephants bathe. Personally, this was the part of the experience that I enjoyed the most! It’s just beautiful to see these amazing creatures playing in the water, spraying themselves and each other using their trunks. This is as close as they get to experiencing life in the wild. Like me, many tourists love to watch the elephants bathe. If you have a chat with the Mahouts, and are willing to pay, they will allow you to assist them scrub the elephants with a coconut husk. The elephants are taken to the river every day from 10:00 am to 12.00 noon and 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
As I was on the bank taking photographs, there was a foreigner, who I think was Japanese, standing next to me. I could literally feel his excitement as he was chatting with his friend and pointing at one elephant in particular. A few moments later, the Mahout called him over to assist with scrubbing the mammoth that was now reclining in the water. He was overjoyed and jumped into the river and waded across the water towards the Elephant. The first thing he did when he was within touching distance was hug the Elephant. It was as if they were two long lost friends who finally met each other. It’s hard to put to words the moment of pure love between man and beast; luckily was able to capture it on Camera.
“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.”
– John Donne