The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in SriLanka is a very touristy destination and a large number of organized tours to SriLanka invariably include it in their itinerary. We visited Pinnawala on our way to Kandy. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit it. But our driver informed that it was on our way going from Colombo to Kandy and we had already paid for the trip (it was included in the cab cost we had paid to the hotel). So we decided it was worth a visit.
The place turned out to be smaller than I had expected. The elephants have a fixed daily schedule and it is posted at the entrance so you know where to find the elephants and what would they be doing. Their feeding time, bathing time, etc. are fixed.
#TravelTip: Check the daily schedule of the elephants at the entrance or preferably before visiting.
We probably missed the elephant to their bathing time as some of the areas were empty. We proceeded to meet a rather giant elephant in an arena, who seemed to be enjoying quite a lot of fruits for lunch. As is very common with places like these, there was a counter selling fruit baskets which you could buy and feed to the elephant. A long queue of excited tourists waited their turn to feed the elephant. Although at first, it seemed a bit scary, we tried it out and it was fun.
As we moved on, we met more of them in a wide open-air area. Although it wasn’t really a bathing area the elephants were given some water storage. We watched them incessantly loading their trunks with as much water as possible and pouring it down on their bodies trying to cool themselves off in the simmering hot sun.
I found it kind of odd that the elephants bathing area was actually wide open-air while the observation deck built for tourists from where they could stand and watch had a nice shade. Although it was February when we visited, it was unbearably hot. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like in the peak summer. The elephants take bath twice a day in the nearby Maha Oya river. I assume it’d be nice to watch them take a bath in the river than here.
Also read: A Foodie’s exploration of Sri Lanka
Should you visit?
It’s hard to say if this place is for you and whether you should pay it a visit. I’d say it is at least better than some of the other places I’ve been to, where animals are paraded and made to give weird performances just to impress the tourists. Elephants are very common in most parts of south India. In national parks and even in many temples. But if you’ve never seen elephants up close or would like a chance to feed one, maybe you should give it a try.
The place has long been in a lot of controversies. A lot of people question their practice of putting elephants in chains. On my way out, I spent some time reading details put out on the wall by the management. The orphanage had replied to this explaining why they sometimes need to chain the elephants as well as answering few other questions people frequently ask.
As far as the authenticity of the place is concerned and how much do they really care about elephants, it is hard to comment by just visiting the place once. There are actually quite a lot of negative reviews about the place online. One of the main issues raised by even other Animal welfare groups is that the elephants are kept in chains, never released into the wild but are completely domesticated and donated to people whose ability to care for them is questionable.
Due to these reasons, a lot of travellers call for not visiting this place. On the other hand, few others argue that even the current problems have come to light only because so many tourists visit this place. It’s hard to hide the shortcomings when a lot of people are watching you. So more people should visit it.
I personally would call for the latter. I’d say you should visit the place and try to highlight any mismanagement that you observe. That is in the best interest of these magnificent creatures. In case you decide to pay a visit, here are some more details –
The daily schedule of the elephants
08.30 hours – Open to visitors
09.15 hours – Bottle feeding
10.00 hours – Herd leaving to the river
12.00 hours – Return from the river
13.15 hours – Bottle feeding
14.00 hours – Herd leaving to the river
16.00 hours – Return from the river
17.00 hours – Bottle feeding
17.30 hours – Ticket counters close
18.00 hours – Close to public
Entrance Ticket Fees
Foreign Adult – 3000LKR ( approx USD 17)
Members of SAARC countries get a 50% discount