Sri Lanka – Pinnawala Elephants

Hmmm.  The positives.  We visited an elephant orphanage and it was great to see so many together – there are around 80 elephants. 

It was set up to care for animals that were injured in the wild. Sama (below) lost a foot at age 2 stepping on a land mine and is now 12 years old.  She does lumber along, having to significantly re-balance her weight to walk.

The orphanage try and emulate wild conditions but some structure is introduced where the elephants are taken to the river and bathed twice a day, and animals under 3 years old are bottle-fed.  Interesting fact each adult is given 76kg of green feed a day plus 2kg of dry feed.

We were there at lunchtime and saw the babies being feed.  It was a bit of a zoo.  The massed elephants were good, the feeding blah-blah.  It felt a very tourist orientated operation.

Warning a gratuitous cute baby elephant photos follow.  The little elephant was having a great time scratching here skin rubbing it against the concrete.  It was as if she was made of rubber as she cavorted about.

But in the end it was expensive, touristy and we departed generally disappointed.

In our short time in Sri Lanka there were several opportunities for an elephant ride.  Our driver regularly tried to get us to do so (for the commission he would be paid for bringing us).

In Sri Lanka there are about 175 elephants in captivity and 1,000 in the wild. One person we spoke to had ‘owned’ 3 elephants.  He had leased his first elephant having been told she was about 40 years old – which is not too old for an elephant.  Then the mother of the elephant’s owner fell ill.  Her dying wish was to see the elephant again before she died, as they had been friends in childhood, and the elephant was trucked south.  The mother was in her 80’s.  Simple mathematics of course tell you the elephant was nowhere near 40 years old, and sadly the elephant also died before being returned.

Undeterred he leased a 2nd elephant and she also became unwell was returned to the owner.  Despite their tough appearance they have thin skins and are susceptible to illness unless they are well cared for. 

Elephants for purchase are rare, but he heard about an elephant for sale from a Buddhist temple for about US$30,000.

It is important the Mahout (keeper) and the elephant have a good relationship.  Turns out most Mahout have a bit of a liking for alcohol.  Looking after elephants is a bit of a precarious operation and a high proportion get injured or killed by their elephants.

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