Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawela in Sri Lanka

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The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Baby elephant in the Pinnewala Elephant OrphanageIt takes us about 2 hours to reach the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawela. When we get there we’re tired but we suddenly get our second wind as we realise that the holiday has really begun. There are two prices for entry to the Pinnawela Orphanage; one for locals and one for overseas visitors. It may seem a little unfair but the reality is that the cost of living in Sri Lanka and the average wage means that if you can afford to travel to visit it, you’re already ranking with the affluent members of the local society. Chris sorts out the entrance and we walk up a gentle slope, past a rather drab looking cafe to the top of the hill where we get our first view of elephants in their native habitat.

In fact, we’re quite blown away by these elephants. This is not like a zoo with one or two elephants shut safely behind a dry moat and a set of railings. There are literally tens if not hundreds of elephants standing casually in the mud at the top of the hill and a small crowd of people are standing, in my view, far too close! The elephants are small by normal standards, clearly young with some very small baby elephants among them.

Standing with the elephants in Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage in Sri LankaLooking around at the scene it seems incredible that these mighty creatures would simply stand and pose for photos. With a bit of encouragement from Chris, the children stand in front of an elephant, within touching distance and we take photos. Secretly Lisa and I are thinking “the children will get us out of a tight spot here – they can have their photos taken and then retreat to a safe distance”. However, this is not to be.

With friendly insistence both Lisa and I are encouraged forward for photos and in hindsight I am please we did. Standing right next to an elephant one and a half times my size and stroking its trunk is an experience I will never forget. But being up this close also reveals the reason for the elephant’s passive acceptance of the photo shoot. All the staff have long metal poles with a hook with which they gently nudge the elephants into position. We saw no “abuse” of the elephants but it left me wondering how such amazing animals become so tame. This was not a particularly pleasant thought. We were aware that tipping was a common occurrence for such photos but all of a sudden I was left wondering how much I should give! Luckily for us we had Chris on hand who, ever so discretely, whispered that 100 Sri Lankan Rupees would be an adequate tip for each of the men helping us.

The rest of the trip was interesting if a little touristy for my liking. We saw the enormous, blind elephant that was very unfortunately changed at the leg to prevent him hurting anyone, including himself. And the feeding of the elephants who were fed bottles of milk, probably about a litre at a time, which they drank in less than 30 seconds. Then we made our way back to the cafe and had a freshly squeezed juice. The quality was not quite what we later found in our five star hotels but the choice was typical of wherever we went in Sri Lanka – Melon, Kiwi, Papaya to name but a few.

Elephants in Sri Lanka

Elephants off to the river to find water in Pinnewala orphanage, Sri Lanka