Bentota - Sri Lanka

The homeless elephants find refuge at Pinnawela Orphanage

As the demand for residential accommodation on the island of Sri Lanka has increased and more land has been developed for urban use, increased pressure from villagers who do not want wild elephants foraging in their back gardens has lead to the government providing sanctuaries for these animals and a number of areas have been created throughout Sri Lanka. These include parks such as Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park. Inevitably, some animals will be reluctant to stay within the confines of their new homes and want to wander as they have for thousands of years – the grass is always greener on the other side. As a result, inevitably some animals are injured or have been captured leading to abandoned young animals being orphaned.

The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was established in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife to its present location on a twenty five acre coconut plantation close to the Maha Oya river at Rambukkana within thirty kilometres of the city of Kandy. The orphanage was primarily designed to afford care and protection to the baby elephants found abandoned in the jungle without their mothers. Initially the orphanage was located at the Wilpattu National Park, it then moved to the tourist complex at Bentota and then to the Dehiwala Zoo. Finally, in 1975 it was transferred to its present location at Pinnawela. When it arrived at Pinnawela the orphanage had five baby elephants, the purpose of the facility was to attract both local and foreign visitors with any income generated contributing towards the maintenance of the facility.

There are only a few elephant orphanages in the world and Pinnawela has now become one of the largest. It is quite well known world wide and most leisure visitors to Sri Lanka will make the time during their stay to visit and witness the work being carried out.

The animals are fed, groomed and generally cared for by the staff. At the regular feed times when visitors are often invited to assist, babies drink milk warmed to body temperature from super-size bottles. The motherless calves are raised by human foster parents in an effort to help preserve Asia's dwindling wild-elephant population and without the intervention of the centre most of the animals would be left to their own fate. Orphaned elephants arrive at the sanctuary from all across the country, rescued from remote villages after a traumatic start to their lives. It is often said that elephants never forget, but what happens when an elephant is forgotten? In Sri Lanka, abandoned elephants who cannot survive in the wild are provided with a safe refuge at the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnewela.

In Sri Lanka and throughout Asia, some of the world's larger remaining wild-elephant herds - about 50,000 animals across the continent - face threats to their survival from burgeoning human populations that are bulldozing forests into farmland and severing centuries-old migration routes with highways and urban development.

In recent years the competition for space between man and beast has led to unprecedented clashes as the giant pachyderms, squeezed out of their native habitat, have attacked villagers and raided farm crops. Asia’s elephant population is overwhelmingly wild, with only a few thousand domesticated and used for work or religious purposes. In Sri Lanka, a small island nation that is home to an estimated 3,000 wild elephants - the problem of diminishing habitat is even more acute. The island has been stripped of 50 per cent of its forest land in the last three decades, dramatically affecting the elephant herds. The animals want to roam and they overlap with the people, government officials are concerned about habitat encroachment and have been working towards long term solutions. In the last 19 years, the number of deserted, maimed and impaired elephants that are protected in foster care has jumped from about 10 a year to 56 each year. Some of the orphans raised in the sanctuary of palm groves and rolling grassland are now rearing their own babies at the orphanage.

The sheer size of the elephants makes them far more susceptible to the problems of human encroachment than other animals such as tigers, rhinoceroses and other endangered species that tend to live in small pockets.

A two month old baby Asian elephant arriving at the centre weighs 60 kilograms (132 pounds) at birth. The animal will drink about 25 litres of milk a day for four and a half years until she's weaned.

Daily activities – feeding times at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

08:00 - 10:00 - 14.00

After feeding the animals are walked 400 meters to the river Maha Oya where the animals frolic and bath in the waters.

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