Like many travelers to Sri Lanka, I have been drawn to the cultural, architectural, and gastronomical delights of both Colombo and Kandy. However, as the two towns are over one-hundred kilometers apart, I, like many other tourists have sought the sanctuary of an equally appealing town en route. And personally, at two hours from Colombo and one hour from Kandy, I find Pinnawala to be the perfect spot. Pinnawala village, which is thirteen kilometers northwest of Kegalle town in Sabaragamuwa Province, is most famous for its Elephant Orphanage. And rightly so. The Elephant Orphanage is the perfect example of tourism aiding both local people and animals. The Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation founded the Orphanage in 1975 to feed, nurse, and protect orphaned Elephants found in and around forests across Sri Lanka. As development projects encroach upon their natural habitat, young, often pre-weaned Elephants are forced to travel further and further afield in their search for water and, particularly during drought periods, can sometimes fall into pits, ravines, and man-made ditches where they are left by their Mothers wounded and often diseased. It is these animals that are rescued and given a second-chance by the veterinary staff, carers, and mahouts (handlers) at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
Since it was first founded in the Wilpattu National Park, the Orphanage has had a variety of homes. From the Bentota tourist complex to the Dehiwala Zoo, the Orphanage has now found a permanent home on a twenty-five-acre coconut plantation opposite the Maha Oya River in the charming village of Pinnawala. And it is here that prudent and well-informed travelers are able to witness almost every aspect of care required in tending to the largest captive herd of Elephants in the world.
That is, one may watch the keepers bottle-feeding babies, tending to the herd, and taking the Elephants for their daily bath across the road in the Maha Oya River. Watching the keepers is a real treat as it allows a behind-the-scenes look at the daily care required to conserve a herd of almost one-hundred Elephants. And remember, a fully-grown Asian Bull Elephant can weigh over five tons and measure over three-meters at the shoulder so they’re not easy animals to manage! Moreover, Pinnawala does play host to some disabled Elephants. There is one Bull Elephant, named Raja who is blind and one female, named Sama who lost her front right leg to a land mine so clearly the level of care required for these animals is even higher. Furthermore, it is also great to know that the veterinary staff conduct a successful captive breeding program at Pinnawala. That is, following the birth of Sukumalle, a female born to Vijaya and Kumar in 1984, there have been well over one hundred births at Pinnawala.
However, for me, the real treat is watching the Elephants being herded across the road into the Maha Oya River for their daily bath. This is an unforgettable scene that allows tourists the opportunity to safely watch one of nature’s most spectacular events. The keepers will even allow travelers to touch the tamest animals and have their pictures’ taken. And, unlike other parts of the sub-continent, there are not the continual requests for unreasonable tips, which really makes the whole experience even more pleasant.
And if that isn’t enough for you, the more intrepid tourist may even feed the Elephants themselves or go for an unforgettable Elephant ride through the jungle. Just be warned – this will be high, bumpy, and may end with the Elephant giving you a little shower of river water! However, it’s all worth it to know that the money spent is supporting the local economy, the people of Pinnawala, and their continued efforts to take care of these magnificent animals.
Story & Photography | Andrew Roughton
Andrew is a British writer and photographer residing in Cork, Ireland. He has lived and worked all over the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, and the United Arab Emirates. He has covered topics including travel, food, music, film, the arts, sport, and scuba diving. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Kent’s Canterbury Campus in England and a Master’s Degree from Middlesex University’s Dubai Campus in the United Arab Emirates. For examples of his writing and photography, you can visit the following site: http://www.andrewroughton.wordpress.com. To commission Andrew to write any articles you can reach him on: +353 (0)851 676 031 or firstname.lastname@example.org