Today is my favorite day as we are going to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka.
The Elephants – one of my beloved species on Earth.
They are huge, really huge, very intelligent, very sensitive and definitely understand your energy towards them – they know when you come in peace and they know when you want to hurt them.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala Village, 13 km northwest of Kegalle, halfway between Colombo and the hills of Central Sri Lanka.
Currently it is home to 93 elephants. Pinnawala was built in 1975 – the location of the orphanage was ideal as it was lush with coconut plantations and in an area where lots of mahouts were living.
It was also very convenient as elephants need a lot of water. Pinnawala is located at the riverside where the elephants can take their bath every day.
All elephants that are today joining Pinnawala Orphanage are staying here until they die and are not settled back in nature. The reason why is that mostly orphans or injured animals are coming to Pinnawala who are dependent on the care facilities of the orphanage. Mostly they are not able to live in wild nature anymore even if they would be set back.
An elephant needs about 600 kg of food per day which is not that easy for the animal to find in the wild. They might face problems in providing their daily food whereas the orphanage takes care of that and they get the needed food every day.
If the mother elephant is going to die in nature, the baby elephant will not leave the mother’s dead body and normally would also die. These orphans are saved by the organization and taken care. Each orphan enjoys some special care and humans are taking the role of the mother.
It takes about 3-4 years till the baby is growing up and till then there is a person taking care for the baby like a mother for 24 hours a day.
In Sri Lanka the life of the elephants is under threat as in the most parts of the world. These giant animals are pushed into smaller areas of the country as development activities more and more destroy forests and disrupt the ancient migratory routes of the animals.
The size of the herds normally is 12-20 animals which is led by the eldest female.
The Sri Lankan elephant decreased in number by 65% since the 19th century. Human settlements increase and growing agriculture is effecting their living areas. The tea plantages that were set and grew by the British in the 19th century have been the former living space of the elephants in Sri Lanka. While the tea farms were growing, the living space for the elephants was shrinking.
Today there are just 5000 elephants in Sri Lanka left – the male are under threat due to their tusks.
Nowadays the Sri Lankan elephant is protected by the local law and killing an elephant is punished with death penalty.
The usage of the elephants by private companies / families is strictly controlled by the government and set under certain rules.
Elephants and Human Culture
Elephants hold symbolic, cultural and economic importance in Sri Lanka and have a very long association with mankind since thousands of years.
In those days there was an abundant number of elephants and the kings of those eras were capturing and taming the elephants.
The elephants then took part in the ceremonial, cultural and religious pageants and processions of the King’s family.
In later years when the Dutch and Portuguese were reigning over the country the number of captured animals increased significantly since the Dutch and the Portuguese were exporting the animals to other countries and using them in wartime as well.
In Hinduism, Ganesh is the elephant god son of Shiva and Parvati and is the patron of art and science as well as of intellect and wisdom and is symbolizing prosperity.
He is the god who is best known and most beloved in all the deities in Hinduism and the God of the beginnings and the success.
The African vs. The Asian Elephants
The difference between the African and the Asian elephant is on first view that the African elephant is much larger than the Asian one.
The African ones grew up to 4m while in Asia the largest ones are 3.5 m tall.
Both are belonging to the same family, the elephandantae but are of different genus.
Weight of African elephants is about 4000 – 7500 kg while the Asian ones have a weight of 3000- 6000 kg.
Above are the Asian Elephants
Example of an African Elephant from my travels in Botswana
The head of the African elephant is round , the top is a single dome whereas the Asian ones have a twin domed head with an indent in the middle.
The ears of the African elephants are very big and in the shape of the African continent while the ears of the Asian ones are much smaller.
All African elephants have tusks while for the Asian elephants only the male have tusks. African tusks are usually very tall. 50% of the female Asian elephants have some small teeth.
The trunk of both is different – while the African Elephants have 2 fingers at the end of their trunk, the Asian elephants just have 1 finger.
The African elephant tends to eat more leaves while the Asian elephant eats more grass.
Elephants in Musth
Taking care of the elephants in the orphanage is not that easy for sure as it is a difficulty to control them due to their size and immense power they have.
Especially the male elephants can be a serious threat to the people when they are in musth.
Musth is a Persian word and means “ condition of poisoning” and is meant for the elephants for the periodical change of the elephant bulls behavior. An elephant who is in musth whether in wild or domesticated is producing 60 times more testosterone than normal which means that when time comes he might be unbelievably aggressive and harm his surrounding or people around him in a serious way.
There are cases recorded also in Pinnawala where a male elephant in musth was running away from the herd and attacking cars on the road and destroying them and also injuring people. This is all due to his nature.
Say No to Howdah
The Howdah is the ornate carriage that is normally positioned on the back of the elephant to carry people.
It is recorded that the weight of a Howdah is about 200 kg and normally up to 7 people were carried in a howdah on the back of an elephant, also for touristic purposes which meant a total weight for an elephant of 750 – 800 kg.
All this is now controlled by the Sri Lankan government .
The usage of Howdahs is not allowed and in the Orphanage e.g. 1 elephant can carry max 2 persons on his back while carrying 4 people was very normal just a short time back.
So the local government takes care for the usage and the care of the elephants in the country as well as in organizations and private enterprises.
It is sometimes sad to see the animals in these circumstances instead in freedom and in their wildlife but it seems that they are better protected when they stay at the orphanage as the threats outside are much more serious.
On the other side the orphanage needs financial support to feed the elephants and to keep the orphanage running.
With mixed feelings we take a ride on one of the elephants. It costs 14 USD per person and we do hope that this is a financial support that really benefits the animals in the orphanage.
We LOVE elephants – it is a ride of just a few steps with them but the experience is so nice and so great.
I love touching the skin of these giants and building up an energy flow between myself and the elephant- I always do hope that they can feel how much love I feel for them.
Our elephant seems to be a little bored to move all the same route in a circle but when we descent, we decide to feed him with some pumpkins.
I leave and provide some pumpkin for our friend.
When he recognizes us and the Mahout allows him to take the fruit we look directly into his beautiful eyes.
The eyes are of light brown color and are getting widely opened when recognizing the fruit. The look into his deep eyes let us feel connected to each other… Warm and heartful…
You have the sense that the elephant is getting awake and really happy.
He is enjoying the fruit meal and the pumpkins are finished in a minute.
The Animal Hunt Problem
A big issue is the significant decrease in the number of wild animals like elephants, giraffes, tigers, lions, rhinos allover the world since these animals are hunted everywhere by mankind for their horns, their tusks, their skins or just for fun – it is unbelievable and it is so difficult to protect them.
This is why that kind of orphanages or sanctuaries are so important – even if the circumstances seem to be not 100% ideal but it is a kind of a beginning and a kind of protection for the animals.
It would be great if people everywhere would become much more conscious on these topics and would help to protect those species.
There are lots of activities going on and internationally people e.g. try to ban ivory especially in the US and in China as even this would help significantly to protect those animals as there would be no reason for hunting them any more.
My Baby Elephant
I, by myself am trying to help those animals while I am part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, and a mom to a little elephant orphan – his name is Naipoki – for a year and helping to financially manage the food of this elephant baby.
I would love to meet him in Africa and do believe a lot in the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust since I get regular reports and follow all activities in the social media.
David Sheldrick is maybe a little more ahead as they grow the orphans and take care for injured animals but bring them back to wildlife when time comes. They also protect animals while moving them into safer areas without bringing them to the orphanage.
My wish is that the consciousness of people will grow and understand how important it is to save wildlife and to show interest and activity for the protection of the animals.
I am not sure whether it is correct – I don’t hope so – but there was a report on African elephants saying that if hunting is moving on as it is there will be nearly no elephants in 10 years on the African continent anymore as they will be nearly extinct…
These are the thoughts that I have in mind while we are strolling around in the orphanage.
The Elephant Bath
At 2pm all the elephants are leaving the orphanage area, crossing the road with their mahouts and running down the street, through the shops and restaurants area and finally arriving at the riverside where they will happily take their daily bath.
There is a cafe + restaurant + hotel overlooking at the beautiful river where every hour elephants are having a bath. It is called Hotel Elephant Park.
How nice it would be if this would be their natural home and where they could live not behind walls but in freedom.
It is a dream for that we should keep up – anything can be done, it is just a question of willingness and investment…
Here is a video made by my daughter of the lovely elephants in the orphanage. ❤