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Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

"We humans define ourselves by the ways in which we treat animals" Julian Huxley

We turn off to our right at the town of Kegalla in scenic Colombo Kandy Road (A1) that continue (A5) to Nuwara Eliya. Onwards of Kegalla, this foremost road of the island is still more spectacular. Nevertheless we are off the main road now, in a side road leading the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. By the road are numerous spice gardens & lots of handicraft shops selling leather goods & eco friendly pachyderm paper made of processed elephant done.

It all began with four orphans
The government-run Orphanage was set up in 1975 to rescue four orphaned baby elephants when they could no longer be looked after at Dehiwala (Colombo south) Zoo. Today with 70 elephants herein, it has become the home to the largest captive group of elephants in the world. Orphaned young elephants whose parents have been the victims of poachers or accidents are tamed, reared & trained herein to eventually become working beasts.

Please release me, but not yet
Elephants who are habituated to humans & domesticated elephants, cannot be easily released to the wild. The elephants here range in age from newborns, tiny (elephant tiny that is), hefty adolescents, young adults to elderly matriarchs, & include orphaned & abandoned elephants, as well as those injured in the wild & in conflicts the farmers in the villages. Among those are famous residents such as the three-legged elephant, Sama, who stood on a land mine, and a blind elephant, Raja. The orphanage population is constantly augmented by new arrival Born Free in captivity: about one elephant is born here every year. The successful captive breeding project had so far produced 22 second generation births.

Cold milk in elephant baby bottles
The elephants, which roam freely in parkland, are 'herded' by their mahouts (keepers) just before being taken to feeding sheds. At this time all orphans are in fine form & most photogenic. They are fed in couple of large sheds. Baby elephants, very hairy & barely 1m high are nursed by adult elephants. You will be seeing the tiniest & cutest baby elephants you're ever likely to see. Most possibly the only place on this planet where an elephant can step on you feet & you might still walk away with a smile. Luckily that is a tiny baby elephant Still more, you will be caressing them & feeding them milk in elephant baby bottles. They guzzle enormous quantity of milk. Adults gulp down a diet mainly of palm leaves of 250kg a day. Two special farms run by the National Zoological Gardens help meet the needful.

Twice a day after the meals
Twice a day elephants here, after the meals, are driven across the road to May Oya river for a leisurely bath. And you will be watching their antics from the comfort of river bank, or in superior comfort, from the terraces of the Pinnalanda Restaurant or Hotel Elephant Park uphill of the river. The adult elephants work in the orphanage itself, earning their keep by helping with various chores, such as collecting food.

Millennium Elephant Foundation
A few kilometres down the road from Pinnewala, the Millennium Elephant Foundation has a rather more didactic aim than Pinnewala - indeed the two places complement on another rather neatly. With the exception of the young Pooja, who was born at the foundation in 1986, the eight elephants here are all retired working beasts. Herein you will learn everything you need to know of about elephants & view how they are used as working elephants; you can also help clean them & interact with them. It's also possible to engage in voluntary work with the foundation's mobile veterinary unit. The foundation was instrumental in introducing pachyderm paper to the market of Sri Lanka.

Pachyderm paper
Pachyderm paper is one of the most novel wildlife initiatives in Sri Lanka in recent years. Among many other remarkable abilities, the elephants are also a kind of mobile paper factory on four mighty legs. During meals, the elephants ingest a huge amount of fibre which is then pulped in the stomach & delivered in hot (no, not steaming hot) fresh dollops of dung, ready-prepared for the manufacture of paper. The dung is dried in the sun & boiled, & the resultant pulp used to make high-quality novelty stationery with an artistically textured finish. The texture & colour varies according to the elephant's diet, while other ingredients including tea, paddy husks & onion peel are also added according to the required finish. More than just a novelty stationery item, pachyderm paper could prove an important source of income to the villagers - & thus a significant help in conservation measures. Customers to date have included the Colombo Hilton, Sri Lankan Airlines & Bank of Ceylon.

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Photo Gallery

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Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

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