In the elephant orphanage of Pinnawala in the centre of Sri Lanka, orphaned and injured elephants are taken in and nursed back to health. An extremely successful elephant breeding programme was started in the 1980s.
The elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka is located in Pinnawala about 90 kilometres from the capital Colombo and is one of our top 10 attractions in Sri Lanka. The facility was founded in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation and is dedicated to raising and caring for orphaned elephants.
The elephants were found wandering alone in the jungle as babies and brought to the orphanage. But soon the mission was expanded and sick and injured pachyderms were also cared for at the Pinnawala orphanage. This was first housed in Wilpattu National Park and Dehiwala Zoo before being established in Pinnawala on a 10-acre former coconut plantation. Here, on the banks of the Maha Oya River, the elephants can be given enough space and exercise.
20 years after its foundation, the Elephant Transit Home was also established in Udawalawe National Park, which from then on took in orphaned animals. The Pinnawala herd continued to grow through the offspring that saw the light of day at the orphanage. Thus, the orphanage became a breeding station that contributes to the slow recovery of the elephant population.
Before the arrival of the British, the number of elephants living in the wild on Sri Lanka was around 30,000; the soldiers almost managed to completely eradicate the proud animals. Today, around 4,000 animals live in the wild again and are regarded as sacred by Hindus and Buddhists alike.
From orphanage to tourist magnet
In the meantime, the orphanage at Pinnawala has become a major tourist attraction, which finances the facility. The natural environment in which the pachyderms can move, the loving care and good treatment have made the breeding programme in Pinnawala a complete success.
Around 10 baby elephants are born here every year, some of which spend their entire lives in the orphanage and also see their grandchildren grow up. Other elephants are released back into the wild or sold or donated to private individuals, often criticised for not checking afterwards that the elephant is being treated well.
Visit to the elephant orphanage
With almost 80 animals, the village of Pinnawalla is known to be home to the largest captive elephant herd in the world. The herd is looked after by 48 elephant handlers, the so-called mahouts. Twice a day, the elephants are led over half a kilometre to the river, where they can drink and are bathed. They are fed in their boxes, where they also spend the nights. An adult animal eats almost 80 kg of green fodder per day.
For visitors - both locals and tourists - the twice-daily bathing ceremony of the elephant herds is the biggest attraction. The bank of the Maha Oya River can be reached directly via Rambukkana Road. From the wide bank, the elephants can be seen bathing, trumpeting and playing.
In the orphanage itself, the keepers can be accompanied during the day when feeding and caring for the elephants. For the enthusiastic spectators, some baby elephants are also bottle-fed three times a day.