Elephants and Pinnawala

Pinnawala is a small village around 40 km from Kandy.
Europeans see Elephants as unique animals with a possibility to see them in a ZOO. Otherwise, it is necessary to travel to countries with their natural existence.
As we “Europeans” perceive them as precious animals, we have a different approach than the vast majority of people in Asian countries.

Facts 2019

  • There are about 6500 elephants in wildlife, parks, safari and temples.
  • Elephants are enormous, powerful and majestic animals that live to a high age. They are brilliant with an excellent memory.
  • The Elephant is one of the symbols of SriLanka.
  • They are part of grand ceremonies which happening very often.
  • The Hindu god Ganesha portrayed with an Elephant’s head.
  • Elephants are seen quite often at Buddhist temples.
  • Elephants hunted officially in the past and today, they are protected animals.
  • Especially in this century, they are an attraction for tourists and part of a large business.

Pinnawala Orphanage

Pinnawala is the Elephant Rescue Station. There should be Elephants who don’t survive in the wild, sick individuals and orphans. Based on what they claim, Elephants who are heal and able to survive should return to the jungle.
I believe that this Orphanage originated with an excellent idea and that there are still Elephants in need of help to survive or to make their life “better”. Over time, however, this idea has turned into a big tourist business.

Entrance in Pinnawala is around 2500 Rps – 3000 Rps/person with experience Elephants in the nearby Ma Oya River. 2/2019

It became a tourist destination where the Elephants are dressage to exhibit a show for visitors who can take beautiful photos. When we look under the lid, we discover the ugly truths that would discourage numerous tourists. There are several discussions about the ethics of this place, and everyone has to make an opinion for themselves.

What I heard about Pinnawala from locals and tourists

  • They’re trying to help Elephants.
  • Without this kind of organizations, the injured Elephants or the surviving orphans would be dead very quickly.
  • Healthy individuals were drawn directly from nature to give tourists the incentive to come and pay.
  • Stealing baby Elephants from their mothers to have an attraction.
  • Once they got a large sum of money for an Elephant from a Sheikh and found that it could earn money even this way. There is an Elephant from this shelter in Prague. Maybe there are two of them from Pinnawala.
  • It’s an Elephant ZOO; it’s an illusion.
  • The Elephants listen to the given commands that prove this undergoing dressage. Wild Elephants won’t accept commands.
  • Elephants are forced to bath twice a day. They have to lie down in the mud and go under a big shower. The procedure is just to please tourists.
  • Riding an Elephant is generally a big topic because a lot of tourists want to do it for a stunning picture on Instagram. But did you know that they are majestic animals that by sitting on them you humiliate them and cause them a pain?i
  • Mahout supposed to be a man who cares for an Elephant. Even according to tradition, it should be a boy who will have a relationship with a young Elephant and will grow up together.
  • Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much of the traditional Mahouts who bond with these animals.
  • Mahouts show the trapped Elephants who the “man” is here, who has the power, the hook and shackles. Then eventually the Elephants will go back into the wild, but they remember and when they get near the villages where people will threaten them with the hooks, they are avoiding. It is not in vain to say “memory as an elephant”.

In Pinnawala we stood to the exit and in the direction of the river where the Elephants go. I didn’t want to support business, but I wanted to see Elephants. Every day at 2 pm, Mahouts are taking the Elephants through the village to the closest river for a bath. And the parade ends with a Mahout riding an Elephant — I think only to make a show and to be cool.


Please be aware and remember what we wish for is sometimes dangerous. Don’t support tourist places where money rules and not common sense and empathy. Visit safari and other places where Elephants have at least more freedom.

What has become of Pinnawala and possibly other places is just a consequence of what is tourist demand. If we as tourists ask for something and want it, it will quickly become a business, as it happened here. The locals naturally respond to this and want more money and are willing to do terrible things for it. It all starts and ends with us, every person.

Orphanages and shelters for Elephants are needed. The idea to eliminate them is naive. But the way how to behave to the Elephants should be rethought. They are beautiful animals that deserve to live wild and not to have them as an object for business. 

Wild elephants

I was lucky enough to see wild elephants near Arugam Bay. No safari, no orphanage just free wild animals. Be respectful, take your distance, but there are some places where you can see them – from the central part to go to the east or north side.
There are plenty of Safaris. Just search on Google or ask in some Facebook groups, I haven’t been in any, so I can’t give you proper information.
Yala – there is massive traffic, jeeps haunt the animals, and the price is high.

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