Showing the kids animals in the wild whenever possible has always been my plan in our trips, whether they’re small birds or butterflies – it doesn’t matter. They don’t get to experience it in Dubai. Our trip to Sri Lanka was a perfect chance to see one of the magnificent animals – the elephants in the wild. I have only been able to see elephants in a zoo type environment so I was also looking forward to this trip.
The very helpful agent from Jetwing Travels suggested we go to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala village, 13 km northwest of Kegalle town in Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka on our way from hill county of Nuwara Eliya back to the capital city.
Related read: Road trip from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
Today’s photo essay takes you with us to the elephant orphanage we visited where elephants roamed chain-less. Visitors from all over the world come to see this sanctuary for over 80 retired, abused or orphaned elephants.
I have not seen this many elephants in one place ever in my whole life. And this close? It’s overwhelming.
You can find all types of elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – male, female, old , young and even calves, abandoned or lost in jungle living free and breeding in this 25 acre land. A project launched by the Wildlife Department about four decades back is now managed by the National Zoological Gardens.
It’s an understatement to say that our kids Pristine and Benjamin had a lovely time. Pristine was very eager to get close to the elephant at the fruit feeding station. Benjamin stepped back and wouldn’t go near just yet. Here you can see Pristine touching one elephant.
At some parts of the orphanage, I have read over at Trip Advisor that mahouts (elephant caretakers) ask for money in exchange for touching the elephants of taking photos of them up close. At this particular feeding station, we weren’t charged for anything. There were trays of fruits for sale to feed the elephant. I took these photos without being charged or anything.
The elephant caretakers at the feeding hut were fascinated by Benjamin and kept calling him “little white elephant”.
There’s a milk feeding station too but we didn’t have any photos of any of us bottle feeding the baby elephants because, we didn’t. First, there is a separate fee for that. Next, we didn’t like how it became so touristy with so many people hovering around the poor baby elephant. The animal must be too overwhelmed or even stressed. We left and went to see the elephants who were roaming freely in the field instead.
So while waiting for the river bathing time, we explored the back side of the orphanage and we’re pleased to see that the animals generally seemed very well cared for with large expanses to roam.
Here, the elephants are roaming free but they are closely watched. We never felt unsafe standing this close to these animals.
When it was 2 pm, we heard the signal – it was time to take the herd for their daily bath at the nearby Maha Oya river. We followed the herd after a while – not too close as it is dusty to be following them behind closely!
The Maha Oya river is about 500 meters away from the orphanage. It was a lovely sight to see! The elephants had a lovely time in the river, with some lying in the deeper water and others just hanging about.
A few elephants were still lingering in the river when we left.
TIPS IN VISITING THE PINNAWALA ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE
1. Prepare cash as they don’t accept credit cards for the entrance fees, at least when we went there in July 2014.
We have ran out of cash and had to withdraw from an ATM machine outside the premises. Sometimes, depending too much on plastic money can be an inconvenience.
2. Bring food, especially if you’re taking kids along. The shops inside selling food are limited.
Benjamin was very hungry when we arrived there and I forgot the small bag with food inside the car, parked outside. My husband went to get the bag and for the meantime, the caretakers at the fruit feeding station gave us pieces of watermelon and bananas. These food were meant for feeding the elephants for a small amount of money per tray but they were kind and said “for your little white elephant madame!” (they didn’t ask us to pay for the fruits)
3. Be careful of the lure to get close to the elephants to touch them or take photos of them up close as this is not free, especially at the river!
4. When the elephants head to the river for bathing, secure a table at a restaurant at the Elephant Bay Hotel. The hotel is located at the left side when you’re facing the river from the road.
I didn’t know this but my every resourceful husband found us a good vantage point while we enjoyed a late lunch on the balcony, overlooking the river while watching the elephants enjoying their water time.
5. Aim to arrive at the orphanage before the scheduled bathing time at the river scheduled at 10am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 4 pm.
We had a fantastic time at this place and glad we took this side trip with the children. Benjamin still remember this trip when we look at the photos and say, “we go there again, mama”. I was a bit worried reading some reviews that some mahouts beat the elephants and don’t treat them right. I didn’t want my children to see such maltreatment. The handler’s did have sticks, but they were only used to coax the elephants. I told the children that elephants, even the babies are heavy and need to be kept controlled for the safety of all.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is situated between Kandy and Colombo, accessible via Kegalle-Rambukkana road. Entrance is 2,500 Sri Lankan Rupees or about ($20).