Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala village, 13 km northeast of Kegalle town in Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. Pinnawala is notable for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was first established by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1975 for feeding and providing care and sanctuary to orphaned baby elephants that were found in the wild. The orphanage was first located at the Wilpattu National Park, then shifted to the tourist complex at Bentota and then to the Dehiwala Zoo. From the Zoo it was shifted to Pinnawala village on a 25-acre coconut plantation adjacent to the Maha Oya River.

The primary residential care area is on the east side of Highway B199, Rambukkana Road. The main site also has some restaurants / refreshment stands, and management buildings including sleeping sheds and veterinary facilities. The elephant bathing and viewing area along the River is directly opposite on the west side of the highway.

At the time it was finally settled, the orphanage had five baby elephants which formed its nucleus. The addition of orphans continued till 1995 when the Elephant Transit Home adjoining Udawalawe National Park was created by the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Since then, orphaned babies have been taken to the Elephant Transit Home and addition to the Pinnawala herd has been mostly through births occurring there.

Pinnawala is the most popular and accessible place to see large numbers of these lovable animals in a natural habitat. It is the most popular elephant ‘attraction’ with tourists because nowhere else, except at the splendid ‘pereheras’ you see so many elephants at such close quarters. The government opened it in 1975 since many more baby elephants than usual had become separated from their herds that year.

The town really comes alive in April for the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, and it is difficult to find accommodation as Sri Lankans holiday in the region during this period. The festive season starts on April 1 annually in a ceremonial manner. The ceremony consists mainly of a band show in which all the local school bands participate.

The orphanage was established to feed, nurse and house young elephants found abandoned by their mothers. Young elephants sometimes fall into pits and ravines in their quest for water during drought period. Other orphans have been displaced from their wild habitat by development projects or have been found abandoned before weaning, diseased or wounded. There are 48 mahouts (handlers) who take care of the elephants. The female and young elephants in Pinnawala range freely as a herd during the day in an area of a few acres. They are herded about .5 km twice a day to drink and be bathed in the river. At night, the females are individually chained in stalls. Adult males are doing some light work such as transporting feed. They are chained and managed individually. Calves born in Pinnawala are not bottle fed, but a few from Elephant Transit Home are kept at Pinnawala and bottle fed as a tourist attraction.

The elephants are fed in their stalls. There is very little food they can gather from the premises of the orphanage except some grass. Large quantities of jackfruit, coconut, kitul (sugar palm), tamarind and grass, brought in daily, form the bulk of the elephant’s food. Each adult animal is given around 250 kilograms of this green matter per day and around 2 kg from a food bag containing rice bran and maize.

This elephant orphanage conducts captive breeding of some elephants in its care. The natural environment and healthy care and feeding at Pinnawala made the elephant breeding program a success. The first birth at Pinnawala was in 1984, Sukumalee, a female was born to Vijaya and Kumar who were aged 21 and 20 years respectively at the time. The males Vijaya and Neela and females Kumari, Anusha, Mathalie and Komali have since then parented several baby elephants. More than twenty-three elephants were born from 1984 to 1991. In 1998 there were fourteen births at Pinnawala, eight males and six females, with one second generation birth in early 1998. Since then till early 2012, 84 more were born at Pinnawala.

Most of the elephants at Pinnawala are healthy and once attaining adulthood will be retained within the facility mostly since they have become dependent on supplied food. A few disabled elephants are given residential care. One tusker, Raja is blind, and one female, named Sama, lost her front right leg to a land mine.

However travel weary you may be, this short detour off the Colombo-Kandy road is very rewarding and you will find the orphans at this home totally endearing.

08.30 hours Open to visitors 09.15 hours Bottle feeding 10.00 hours Herd leaving to the river 12.00 hours Return from the river 13.15 hours Bottle feeding 14.00 hours Herd leaving to the river 16.00 hours Return from the river 17.00 hours Bottle feeding 17.30 hours Ticket counters close 18.00 hours Close to public

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