Situated about 90 Km from Colombo and turning left at the 82nd km marker post on the A1 Kandy road is Pinnawela. The closest railway station –Rambukkana, is just 2km from the village of Pinnawala.
The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is a popular spot for both local and foreign tourists where one can see elephants close-up, and even enjoy watching them make their way to the nearby Maha Oya River, having their twice-a-day bath, rolling in the water and having fun, before making their way back to the orphanage.
The Orphanage is home to around 100 elephants where one can watch, and even get a chance to pet the little baby jumbos pandering around. Varying in age, most of them are now accustomed to their new home. It was established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department primarily to provide care and protection to orphaned and injured elephants. It was located originally on a 25 acre plot of coconut property, bordering the Maha Oya River with just about five baby elephants. Every year, many baby elephants either get separated from their herds, some falling into unprotected wells while trying to drink water owing to droughts that hit their roaming land. Some fall into gem-mining pits or fall prey to poachers, or farmers who shoot or maim their adult parents to keep them away from ruining their crops and homes.
Most of the abandoned elephant calves brought here are almost fully weaned, making it easier for their caring new ‘parents’ the mahouts and capable staff to care for them and for them to be released to be with the main herd after being quarantined for a few days. The three-year weaning period for these young calves is crucial for their endurance and progress, during which they consume huge quantities of milk and at the orphanage, they are fed dairy milk with the little ones suckling it from bottles. Older female elephants too provide nurturing loving care to suckle the little ones that are introduced to the herd and would generally provide a little room for the unfortunate calves to snuggle up to them. Each elephant’s progress is detailed and recorded as they are cared for by a dedicated, loving staff and mahouts.
Feeding time is usually at 9.15 a.m., 1.15 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. with the littles putting away huge quantities of milk fed to them by their caring foster parents. The larger elephants are fed with green leafy diet weighing around 75 kgs., mixed with rice bran, and minerals.
One of the highlights for the visitor is bath time where the elephants are taken down to the river for a bath twice a day. This bath is strictly necessary to maintain their happiness and health. Bathing time is usually from 10 a.m. up to 12.00 p.m. and again from 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m.
The Orphanage opens at 8.30a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. daily. These are the general timings for the day.
08.30 hours Open to visitors.
09.15 hours Bottle feeding.
10.00 hours Bathing time. Herd makes its way to the river.
12.00 hours Herd leaves the river for the orphanage.
13.15 hours Bottle feeding.
14.00 hours Bathing time. Herd makes its way to the river.
16.00 hours Herd leaves the river for the orphanage.
17.00 hours Bottle feeding.
17.30 hours Ticket counters close.
18.00 hours Orphanage closes for the day.
Open Air Zoo at Pinnawala
Another interesting attraction at Pinnawala is Sri Lanka’s first open air zoo which was open to the public in April of 2015. Located on 44 acres of land and adjacent to the famous Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, it is based on two theme zones; ‘Sri Lankan’ and ‘World’.
The ‘Sri Lankan’ zone showcases many Sri Lankan animals that include the Purple-faced leaf monkey, Wild Boar, Sambur, Asian Elephants, crocodiles, leopards, deer, and endemic species of birds while the ‘World’ zone has a collection of foreign animals.
Pinnawala is a worthwhile diversion for the Kandy-bound traveler providing an excitingly interesting visit to one of the world’s famous elephant locations.