The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is situated northwest of the town of Kegalle, halfway between the present capital Colombo and the ancient royal residence Kandy in the hills of central Sri Lanka. It was established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka wildlife department in a 25 acre coconut property near the Maha Oya river. The orphanage was originally founded in order to afford care and protection to the many orphaned Elephants found in the jungle. As of 2003, there were 65 elephants.
In 1978 the orphanage was taken over by the National Zoological Gardens from the Department of Wildlife and a captive breeding program was launched in 1982. Since this time over twenty elephants have been born. The aim of the orphanage is to simulate the natural world. However, there are some exceptions: the elephants are taken to the river twice daily for a bath, and all the babies under three years of age are still bottle fed by the mahouts and volunteers. Each animal is also given around 76kg of green matter a day and around 2kg from a food bag containing rice bran and maize. They get access to water twice a day, from the river.
The orphanage is very popular and visited daily by many Sri Lankan and foreign tourists. The main attraction is clearly to observe the bathing elephants from the tall river bank as it allows visitors to observe the herd interacting socially, bathing and playing.
This 24 acre elephant orphanage is also a breeding place for elephants.
Twenty elephants have been born since 1984, and the orphanage has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. While most of the elephants are healthy, one is blind and one, named Sama, has lost her front left leg due to a landmine.
Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage is located at the village Pinnawala in the district of Kegalla at a distant of 90km from Colombo.
Reaching Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage is reached by A1 Colombo-Kandy main road. A turn off at the 82 km post at Kegalle leads to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage. The closest railway station is at Rambukkana 2km away from the village of Pinnawala.
Beginning of Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
In the very beginning, in 1972, the orphanage was located at the Wilpattu National Park. Subsequently the orphanage was shifted to the National Holiday Resort at Bentota Beach in the south-western coastal belt and then to the Dehiwala Zoo, 11km south of Colombo. In the year 1975, Department of Wildlife of Sri Lanka set up its present home: Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala, Kegalle. Since then it never turned back on an orphaned elephant: it welcomed all and expanded from 4 orphaned elephants to a gang of no less than 109.
The purpose of Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
The primary purpose of the orphanage has been to provide a lifeline to the orphaned baby elephants and adult elephants lost in the wilderness. In most of the occasions the mother of the orphaned baby elephants had been killed; and then there have been accidents of baby elephants falling into pits and losing out to the herd; and there were instances the mother elephant had fallen into a pit and died leaving the baby elephant lost in the jungle. There are instances of adult elephants being killed by farmers to protect their paddy fields and crops resulting in baby elephants orphaned.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was launched to provide the best possible opportunity to the sad victims of such situations. The orphanage is fully geared to provide an environment of happy and healthy life to the beasts
Captive breeding at Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
The elephants at the Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage aren’t subjected to any form of stress or threat at all and supported by a team of employees at the orphanage numbering over 100 including a group of mahouts.
The free movement of the herd within the 15-acre coconut grove of the orphanage affords the opportunities to both sexes of elephants to get together and mate. Maha Oya, the nearby river, where the elephants taken for bathing on daily basis played a dominant role in this regard. In 1984, the first baby elephant of Pinnawela was born. Today some of these orphans enjoy the good fortune of seeing their third generation too born at the orphanage.
Moreover, today, with the help of local and foreign elephant experts, Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage commenced a scientific captive-breeding programme for Elephants. Since then the orphanage has become one of the most successful captive breeding programmers for Asian elephants.
Decimation of the elephant population by the British colonialists
Prior to the invasion of the British in Sri Lanka in 1815, an estimated 30,000 elephants lived on the island. In the 1960s, following nearly a century of game hunting and jolly slaughter by the British colonialists, the elephant population was close to extinction. The tragedy of decimation of the elephant population prompted the Government of Sri Lanka to found Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage. Today, the number of elephants living in wilderness exceeds 3,000.
The tourist attraction of Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
The centre opens at 8.30 and closes at 6pm daily. Bottle feeding is at 9.15am, 1.15pm & 5pm and bathing time at the river is at 10am and 2pm.
Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage is very popular tourist attraction visited by Sri Lankan tourists as well as by the foreign tourists.
Visiting Pinnawela grand opportunity to enjoy the spectacle up close a large herd of elephants interacting together. The highlight is the elephants at the bathing hours: at 10.00 am and 2.00 pm daily, the animals are walked 400 meters to the river Maha Oya. The visitors seated on the steep rocky banks of the river, are afforded the opportunity, to enjoy the sight of the herd of elephants bathing and playing at the river.
The bathing hours are followed up with the feeding hour at the main center of the orphanage. Baby elephants are bottle fed. Selected visitors have a chance of bottle feeding milk to the baby elephants.
Each and every beast is fed with green matter made of leaves weighing no less than 75 kg: Coconut leaves (Cocos nucifera); Jackfruit (Artocarpus integra); leaves, branches and logs of Kitul palm tree (Caryoty urens); tamarind and grass. Over and above that quantity, elephants are also fed with 2kg of a food mixture containing maize, rice bran, powdered gingelly seed and minerals.
The success story of Pinnawala
The success story of Pinnawela has drawn the attention of scientists from all over the world. A considerable number of books and research articles on Pinnawela have been published in several languages. The members of the Pinnawela herd have been filmed, videoed and photographed thousands of times by professionals, and millions of times by amateurs. The message of conservation from Pinnawela has been passed on to thousands, if not millions of people, after their visit to the orphanage.
Daily features of Interest at the Pinnawala Orphanage
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