Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary in Sri Lanka

Published Categorized as Sri Lanka Travel, Asia Travel, Destinations, Travel Blog
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary

Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary in Sri Lanka – should you visit or not?

Prior to organising our trip to Sri Lanka, we had heard about Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and read the controversy surrounding it. With all that information in mind, we decided we would visit and make up our own mind. We hope by the end of this post, you will have the information you need to make your decision on whether or not to visit.

READ MORE:

PLANNING YOUR HOLIDAY TO SRI LANKA

SRI LANKA: 3 WEEKS ITINERARY

8 REASONS WHY WE LOVE MIRISSA, SRI LANKA

20 TRADITIONAL FOODS IN SRI LANKA YOU MUST TRY


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


“There is no creature among all the Beasts of the world which hath so great and ample demonstration of the power and wisdom of almighty God as the Elephant.”

– Edward Topsell – 

What is Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary / Orphanage?

The Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary in Sri Lanka is located at Pinnawala village, 13 km (8.1 miles) northeast of Kegalle town in Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. Pinnawala village is set on a 25 acre (10 ha) coconut plantation adjacent to the Ma Oya River, where you can find the elephant bathing and viewing area.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation. The orphanage started off with the introduction of five abandoned baby elephants to the premises. They were namely Vijaya, Neela, Kadira, Mathlee and Kumari. The tragedy with these misplaced or abandoned babies is that they could not survive in the wild on their own as baby elephants need to suckle from their mother until they are almost five years old. Hence, they needed to be hand raised for their survival.

Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. In 1982, an elephant breeding program was launched. As of 2020, there were 93 elephants from 3 generations, living in Pinnawala. The institution caters not only for abandoned babies, but also for those injured and maimed within the forests of Sri Lanka. Today, it is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding park for wild Asian elephants.

Visitors to the park can view the care and daily routine of the elephants, such as bottle feeding of elephant calves, feeding of all other elephants, and bathing in the Ma Oya River. There are 48 mahouts (handlers) who take care of the elephants. The female and young elephants in Pinnawala range freely as a herd during the day in an area of a few acres. They are herded about 0.5 km (0.31 miles) twice a day to drink and be bathed in the river.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage - Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – Pinnawala, Sri Lanka

The Concerns About the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary

There have been many articles written about the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary in Sri Lanka over the years, both positive and negative. From our extensive reading around the subject, the main concerns we identified that have been raised by animal welfare organisations and tourists alike, are based around the following issues:

1. The Elephants are Chained Up

When walking around the park and during the bathing sessions at the river, we did see elephants in chains. For most visitors, this is quite confronting, especially when they are in an elephant sanctuary / orphanage.  When we asked an elephant keeper why this was necessary, he explained it was for the safety of staff and visitors, and for the safety of all the other elephants.

During the period known as ‘must’ or ‘musth’, the males are not only kept separately, but they are often chained as they can become extremely unpredictable and aggressive due to the large rise in reproductive hormones at this time. Females are also chained at times because they can also be aggressive when there are challenges for the leadership of the herd.

However, our general observations showed the majority of the herd of adult females, and smaller males and females were free to wander in a large area both in the park and down by the river.


2. Tourism vs. Conservation

For most of us, the words ‘orphanage’ or ‘sanctuary’ imply that the elephants are rescued and well cared for, however, the reality is these elephants are also displayed as a tourist attraction. But does this mean the two are mutually exclusive? The elephants are used as photo props to bring in tourist revenues. They are ‘paraded’ past shops and restaurants to the river for their twice daily bathing for the enjoyment of the tourists, and so tourists can gather around and take photos. 

We believe the main purpose of the park is conservation but the elephants, facilities, grounds and the cost of conservation still has a price. And it is high! Elephants are expensive to feed eating an enormous 20 tonnes of food per day for the 93 of them. The cost of entrance by tourists does support this endeavour which funds of all the medication, all the food, workers’ salaries, maintenance of the facilities etc.

images
Tourist at the Viewing Platform

3. The Elephants Will Never be Released Into the Wild

It is true and unfortunate, but these elephants will never be released into the wild. Forestry areas in Sri Lanka are reducing and if released into the wild, this would make it very hard for the elephants to find food and water. Also, some of the rescued elephants have illnesses or injuries which require daily care and medication.

Due to the ability of most of the elephants to roam freely in herds at the orphanage, some have formed their own families and live together as a herd. For those that are born in captivity, they wouldn’t know how to get food in the wild or how to mix with the other wild elephants.


Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary / Orphanage Details

Location

Address: B199, Rambukkana 71100, Sri Lanka (located about 100 kilometres northeast of Colombo and it takes 2 – 3 hours to drive there).


How to Get There

  1. Train from Kandy or Colombo to the nearest station, Rambukkana (2km away). From Rambukkana station you can hire a tuk-tuk for about AUD$2.00 or USD$1.50, or get on the Kegalle bus and get off in front of the park.
  2. Private Driver in air-conditioned car for AUD$20 / USD$15 (this was to Negombo)

Opening Hours

The park is open every day from 8:30am to 5:30pm.


Cost

For foreign visitors:

  • Adults: LKR3000 (AUD$20.50 / USD$16)
  • Children (aged 3 – 12): LKR1500 (AUD$10.25 / USD$8)

N.B. The tickets for Sri Lankan locals are far cheaper.

Hotel Elephant Bay - Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
Hotel Elephant Bay – Pinnawala, Sri Lanka

Accommodation Options in Pinnawala

Mid-Range (USD$30 to USD$60)

Hotel Elephant Bay – This is where we stayed and we loved it because of the great views of the elephants bathing in the river twice a day both from the restaurant and the infinity pool.

Hotel Elephant Park “Grand Royal Pinnalanda” – Situated on the Ma-Oya River, you can see the elephants from your room.


Budget (Up to $USD30)

Green Land Guest HouseThe elephants walk past this guesthouse on their way to their twice daily swim at the river.

Cafe Pinnalanda – Great budget option very close to the park.

Elephant Bay Hotel - Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
Elephant Bay Hotel – Pinnawala, Sri Lanka

In Summary

Whilst some people will not agree with us visiting the Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary in Sri Lanka, what we found was a conservation project that, while not perfect, was doing a lot of good. Although not the ‘ideal’ environment for the elephants, the park provided a safe haven for the animals. We genuinely believe that the welfare of the elephants is their number one priority.

But at the heart of the legitimate concerns that do exist is the relationship between tourism and conservation. In order to fund the conservation of elephants in Sri Lanka, tourism is, unfortunately, necessary.

For more info on Sri Lanka, read our posts here:


Exit 45 Rating

The Exit45 Rating scale runs from a low of 1 to a high of 5 in each of the 9 categories.  As such, the higher the score out of 45, the better the Exit45 Rating.  N.B. These scores are our own personal opinions and are based on our experiences, budget constraints and what we love doing i.e. adventure seeking foodies who love snorkelling and water related activities.

Value for Money4.5
Cuisine4
Friendliness of Locals4
Ease of Language Barrier4
Climate4
Activities and Tours5
Ease of Travel4
Culture Barrier4
Safety4
TOTAL EXIT45 RATING37.5/ 45

Like This Article? Pin It!

PINNAWALA ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN SRI LANKA

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click on our affiliates / advertisers links and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. AND, many times, you will receive an offer. Win/win! The products and services we write about and mention are the ones we love. We only recommend items that we feel are of good quality and would be helpful to our readers. While we pay for our travels out of our own pockets, these small commissions do assist in keeping us on the road. Thank you!


PREVIOUS BLOG POSTS


SRI LANKA TRAVEL: RELATED BLOG POSTS

Want more info to help you plan your Sri Lanka trip? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel in Sri Lanka below and continue planning your trip.

By Peta Wenzel

We are Peta (Australian) and Jonas (Swedish/Australian), a couple in our mid 40’s / early 50’s who have been travelling the world fulltime since January 2018. We met and lived on the Gold Coast, Australia and spent many evenings researching and watching YouTube vlogs about travel and dreaming of the day we would retire and be able to enjoy a lot more travel ourselves. Over the years, a number of events happened to family and friends and an opportunity arose which made us decide to not wait but to instead take a “Gap Year”. We are now in our 3rd year of travel and still hunger for new adventures and embrace the uncertainty that comes with full-time travel. If you want to know more about who we are, why we choose this lifestyle and how we do it, please follow our adventures and see how you can do it too.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.