by K. Kalyani

It will be a very exciting and much interesting experience if you get a chance to see a lot of captive elephants together in one place, playing, fighting and chasing each other for fun.

There is only one place on this earth, at present, to visit and have this fantastic experience. It is Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is an island situated in the Indian Ocean. It is very famous for its beauty and great history.

This elephant orphanage has become one of the most fascinating places in Sri Lanka for tourists. It was first established in 1975 to protect motherless elephant babies. When it started, there were only 7 orphans, and now you can see 73 male and female elephants there. The elephants, who were first brought here in 1975, are now enjoying life with their grandchildren. This is not only a tourist attraction, but a conservation and education center.

In 1984, the first baby was born at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. She was named Sukamalee. The orphanage has at least two elephants born a year. It will be more in years to come.

Except the elephants who are born at the orphanage, all others are motherless elephants. They were all brought here as the victims of some unknown mystery of nature. The cause may be the death of the mother elephant. Perhaps it may be the human-elephant conflict due to the existing separatists war in the north or east. Some helpless elephants were found stuck in drying out water holes, in their search for water.

An elephant named Raja is an attraction here. Raja the blind tusker was not blind at birth. A gunshot from a human made him blind. Another elephant, a female named Sama, was found with an injured leg. It might have been a trap gun which caused the injuries. She has recovered, but her leg is a bit short and causes her to walk with discomfort. Some scientists have tried to fix an artificial leg for her, but she has refused it.

A Look Into the Elephants Daily Activities

The elephants’ day starts at 7:00 am with cleaning. Several young elephants are bottle fed by the staff. The orphanage opens for the visitors at 8:30 am. At that time the herd is already in the valley. It is lovely to watch them play, chase and fight each other for fun.

The little ones greet their elders. You can go closer to them and touch them if you want. It’s also possible to ride them and take photos with them.

At 10 am the herd slowly moves to the main gate and then crosses the highway to go to the river close by. Then they proceed through the special path that was made for them to reach the river. They move one after the other under the leadership of Neela, the oldest female in the herd.

Sometimes one or two will break out from the line but will rejoin the supervision of mahouts. After they all get in the river, they bathe, drink and splash water at each other. It is an unforgettable experience to watch them splashing in the blue water and green background. You can ride them in the water or photograph them during this time as well.

After two hours, they come back to the orphanage and take naps under the trees. The little ones seek shade under the big bellies of adults. At 1:15 pm, the baby elephants leave the herd for their bottle feeding at the nursery.

What a lovely scene to watch them waiting impatiently for their milk. When they get the bottle into their mouth, they will finish it quickly. They wait for another one, shaking their heads and trunks. By that time the adults also get leaves as their meal at the sheds. At 2 pm they go back to the river again. They return at 4 pm.

They directly go to the sheds for their meals. They know very well the place where they should be. Adults get palm leaves and trunks for their meal. One elephant needs 300 kg of food and 200 liters of water a day.

At 5 pm the little ones will have the bottle feeding again. They are fed with 27.5 liters of milk each day. They get two or three milk feedings during the nighttime. It also depends on their size and their age.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage closes for visitors at 6 pm. There is a restaurant within the orphanage premises. You can have drinks or meals while watching the elephant procession.

There are hotels around the orphanage. The hotel at the river site provides you with a nice view of the elephant activities in the river.

About the Author

K. Kalyani lives in Sri Lanka and currently sends her articles to Tango Diva through the post. Her handwriting is impeccable! She is a bank officer about to retire next year, and her husband is a retired teacher. They have one son who is in school and loves movies and music from the US. Her day starts at 4 am preparing breakfast, lunch and tea for her family. Then she travels an hour by bus to another village for work. Her work day ends around 6 pm, but chores and family duties are only beginning.

In her free time, she writes to penpals and pursues other hobbies like photography and stamp collecting. The fact that she has found any time to write for Tango Diva is incredible…what a spectacular member of our international family!