Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

We stepped through the gates of the Pinnawala elephant orphanage on a very hot, sunny day along with many other tourists and groups of 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 planned as an attraction for visitors, with the hopes that the income would help sustain the costs of caring for the elephants.


Since 1982 a captive breeding program was introduced as well, with the aim of the orphanage to simulate a natural elephants’ lifestyle allowing for free movement of the herd gives the elephants opportunities to mate. There are some exceptions to trying for natural behaviours for one the elephants are led across an intersection twice a day for a dip in a nearby river and also 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 on my visit! I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size of the herd. Though you strictly can’t touch the elephants in the main herd and there is an area you cannot cross you are able to get quite close to observe them.

We moved on to see a very patient elephant standing for photos, here you were able to feed her fruit and even kiss her trunk! The bottle feeding 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!


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