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.
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.
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 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.
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.