Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage - A view from our expert author

elephant in lake at pinawelle sri lanka by Pavelk shutterstock© Pavelk, Shutterstock

A national treasure, this sanctuary provides shelter and care for abandoned and orphaned elephants.

Not a national park, but a national treasure, the orphanage was begun in 1975 to provide shelter and care for young elephants that had been abandoned or orphaned by their mothers. The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is the only one of its kind in the world. There are now over 60 elephants and some of them are founder members (there were originally seven). Older elephants are used as substitute family members for the orphans.

The best time to visit is when the elephants are being fed (bottle feeding is sometimes necessary) or when they troop off in an eager herd down a lane opposite the park entrance to the Maha Oya (river) to bathe. There are terrace cafés on the bank overlooking the river where visitors can relax while the elephants are scrubbed.

The orphanage not only has the largest captive herd of elephants in the world, it has also become the most successful breeding centre, so not all the baby elephants are orphans. It is not a zoo, but a zoo is being built nearby at Wagolla, on a 16ha site that was formerly an agriculture training centre. Animals in that zoo will be housed in landscaped sanctuaries (no cages), separated from visitors by a moat. A wildlife sanctuary and breeding centre for endangered indigenous species is planned as part of the project.

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