Elephant Orphanage, Pinnawala

Never trust somebody who doesn’t like elephants.

When the planning for our trip to Sri Lanka started getting a bit more concrete, the idea floated up of visiting the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala. I received this news on the train home, and to say the least, I almost teared up with the thought that I might be able to see an elephant in real life.
Nothing fazed me about this part of our trip, apart from the fact that we’d be going straight there after the 11-hour flight. I wanted to look my best for the elephants after all.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian Elephants. It’s located in the village of Pinnawala, just 13KM away from the town Kegalle. It’s hard to believe from the modest entrance to the orphanage, but Pinnawala homes the largest herd of captive elephants in the world, in the 25 acres of coconut plantation.
I don’t like typing the word captive. Because even though I know that’s technically the right description, it has negative connotations for a lot of people. The orphanage was founded in 1975 to care for and protect orphaned, and unweaned, wild young elephants. In the beginning there were just 5 baby elephants, who had been found wandering the Sri Lankan forests.
I worried a little when I saw the chains around some of the elephants’ ankles. A ‘mahout’ (handler) told us that the females and young range freely as a herd during the day (as they would in the wild), and are herded twice a day to drink and bathe in the river.
The males are chained, fed and managed individually in order to keep them separate from the females as apparently they are too full of testosterone (we all know what that means…) and can lead to aggression.


Have I ever been more happy?

This guy chills with his mahout while he feeds, and gets a cold shower…
The elephants are fed in these pavillion stalls, but there’s not much food that can be gathered from the land itself, so thousands of kilograms of jackfruit, coconut, tamarind and grass are brought in from outside.
I find it absolutely baffling that each adult elephant eats 250KG of food each day!? Can you even imagine how much food there is in total… this is home to over 70 elephants!
A little guy sniffed my hand and ankle and I was told that this means he would remember me if I ever return (*cries forever*). It was unreal, an afternoon filled with delirium after the long long flight, and just ridiculous coming face to face with an animal with so much life and presence and soul behind their eyes.
If you’re in Sri Lanka and trying to find the right place to meet some elephants, this is it. Open to the public daily, all admission fees are funneled back into the orphanage to care for the elephants.

Have you ever seen elephants in the wild?

Let me know on Twitter!
Love, Chloe x


  1. corinneandkirsty
    August 8, 2017 / 7:20 pm

    Sounds like a great thing to experience! I feel you when you say that keeping animals captive isn’t positive, but I think it’s a good thing when it comes to saving animals and species 🙂

    • August 8, 2017 / 7:58 pm

      I really struggled to write this and describe it – it was such a surreal and wonderful afternoon. I think in general the word ‘captive’ has negative connotations, and that’s more what I meant, but of course there are locations such as this where captivity is definitely a positive thing for the elephant community!

  2. August 8, 2017 / 8:22 pm

    Aww, beautiful photos! You’re so right, people see the word captive and have an instant negative reaction to it but you need to look and read much deeper into what’s going on! xxx

    • August 8, 2017 / 8:47 pm

      Thanks Jenny! Hopefully in a few years we’ll be seeing more and more responsible elephant/wildlife tourism!

  3. August 10, 2017 / 4:15 pm

    What an incredible experience this would be! I understand your feelings about keeping the elephants in captivity, but I’m glad that places like this exist so this species doesn’t become extinct. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos too. Amy x

    • August 11, 2017 / 7:31 am

      The word captivity is so often related to zoos, where they’re caged up and so so far away from the countries and climates they belong in. This is a controlled and caring captivity, and I think the difference is clear in the photos! They were all pretty content and well-looked after x

  4. Kayleigh Zara
    August 10, 2017 / 4:34 pm

    This sound absolutely amazing – I really love elephants but I’ve never seen any that up close. One of my best friends went to Thailand and worked at an elephant orphanage for a while and it sounded like an amazing experience x
    Kayleigh Zara 🌿www.kayleighzaraa.com

    • August 11, 2017 / 7:29 am

      That sounds amazing – I’d love to see them in Thailand and actually in the wild on safari too x

  5. August 10, 2017 / 6:48 pm

    I WISH I’d see elephants in the wild. I’ve seen them at zoos and they are so darn cute, especially the babies! I actually have an elephant design on my planner, that’s how much I adore them! So beautiful!
    Much love xx

    • August 11, 2017 / 7:27 am

      I’m sure you will one day! Seeing them in a place where they are meant to be (as opposed to the UK) is so special x

  6. September 11, 2017 / 5:05 pm

    I have seen elephants at the zoo when I was younger but never like this! They are beautiful creatures and it’s so nice that you got to be around them in a place that cares for them like that. We need to care for wildlife because a lot of animals are nearing extinction. Also, I loved the outfit you were wearing, super cute!

    • September 11, 2017 / 7:40 pm

      Aww thanks so much! The trousers gave me serious Sri Lankan vibes. It really was amazing, hopefully you’ll get to see them in the wild soon! x

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