We stepped through the gates of the Pinnawala elephant orphanage on a very hot, sunny day along with many other tourists and groups of Sri Lankan children on school excursions.
Pinnawala is a huge attraction for the area and boasts a staggering amount of elephants – over 80! The orphanage was founded back in 1975 by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation and, after moving locations a few times, finally ended up in Pinnawala. The facility was always planned to be an attraction for visitors with the hopes that the income generated would help sustain the costs of caring for the elephants.
Since 1982 a captive breeding program was introduced with the aim of the orphanage to simulate a natural elephant lifestyle which allows for free movement of the herd and gives the elephants opportunities to mate as they wish. There are some exceptions to the attempts for natural creating behaviours. For one, the elephants are led outside of the grounds of the orphanage and across an intersection twice a day for a dip in a nearby river and all the babies less than three years of age are still bottle fed by the staff and/or paying guests.
Daily schedule at the Pinnawala Orphanage:
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
18.00 hours – Closed to public
Lots of opportunities to see the babies being fed!
It was quite incredible to see so many elephants all in one place. I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of the herd. Though you strictly can’t touch or approach the elephants in the main herd you are still able to get quite close to observe them.
We moved on to a different area to see a very patient elephant standing for photos, here you were able to feed her fruit and even kiss her trunk! Afterwards we witnessed the baby bottle feeding which was an interesting spectacle. I felt a bit bad for the young elephants having to wait for the tourists to snap pictures before they got to guzzle down their small bottle and wait for the next one.
Definitely my favourite part of going to Pinnawala was being able to see the elephants march from the grounds of the sanctuary and across the public road (a traffic stopper for sure) and down the river. I couldn’t have imagined seeing such a sight in my wildest dreams! It was surreal for sure.
Check out some of the video I shot of the day!