In my previous post, I wrote about how I got into the tourist trap of bathing a chained elephant at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. I regretted it and I still feel guilty about it. It’s probably the most stupid thing I’ve done in my travels. It’s irresponsible travel in many ways.
An Orphanage? The name suggests it’s an orphanage for elephants. Don’t fall for it. The name itself is a trap. Of course, it is a good cause that they keep orphaned elephants. But when they tame the calf to follow their commands, that’s a different story. When they chain elephants to do what they want them to do, it’s sad and heartbreaking.
As my dear friend Mike Shaw says:
“Any establishment that has elephants on their ground who are forced to wear chains, or that offers rides, is nothing short of torture mill. They are not “orphanages” or “sanctuaries.” The horror must be inflicted on these creatures in order to get them comply with commands would make anybody who heard it described to them feel ill (as it did to me). This isn’t like training a cat or dog – it’s diabolical. Don’t give these sadists money.”
Where do these elephants come from? Most of them are captive elephants which were found wandering in the forest. Some of them were rescued from the pits. Others are injured or abandoned by mama elephants.
One-sided point of view. The photos you’ll see below is just one side of how the elephant orphanage is managed. I wished I had contacts with people running the orphanage so that some of my questions will be answered. I am not an elephant expert, but I believe that the orphanage is still doing good things. Everything there is not perfect but I’m sure they can manage it better. For someone, like me, who’s just watching / visiting, the treatment to the animals wasn’t something I expected. But, maybe, for those running the sanctuary – they have different point of views.
The State of the Elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage has almost 30 acres of land where elephants can roam free. On the day I was there, I didn’t see elephants roaming free. I went inside the sanctuary but I only saw ellies busy eating their veggies.
Inside the orphanage, there’s a Milk Feeding Center where I saw two young ellies not being fed but tamed.
They kept repeating the same movements while being chained. Can you imagine doing that for hours?
On the same ground, you’ll find a space where tourists are allowed to feed a chained elephant and take a photo with it. Of course, you can’t do that without buying a basket of food.
From 10:00 – 12:00 and 2:00 – 4:00, the herd is led to the river for bathing.
They cross the the main road and onto a street, passing shops. restaurants and hordes of tourists.
Their handlers make sure they don’t deviate from the line.
And as what I have observed, the elephants look and sound distressed.
Many of them walk forward sideways and you can really tell that their eyes are looking at the mahout’s sharp spear.
And yes, some of them are wearing heavy chains from their necks to their ankles.
When they reached the river, I wondered why most of them were just standing there – close to each other. Why do the handlers want them to stay in one place? I thought they’d frolic and play.
Then, a tourist I talked to said that the riverbeds have chains. That is, perhaps, to send a signal to these giants that they’re under control by somebody and they have to stay together.
Of course, the mahouts with their razor-sharp spears are watching them closely.
When one ellie defied them, this happened.
Tourists can watch them only in designated areas.
It’s like a circus – but there’s no incredible performance of elephants jumping on fires or hullahooping with their trunks.
Other Option to See the Elephants in Sri Lanka
If you really want to see the elephants in their natural habitat, go and join the safari at Udalawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. Here, elephants roam free in this park. Stay at the fabulous Kottawata Village where they can arrange this safari for you.
I sent a message to the FB page of Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage today. Hopefully, someone would respond and can answer questions.