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Home > Discovery Top Attractions > Elephant Orphanage

Elephant Orphanage

Arugam BayElephant Orphanage, at Pinnawela , is an orphanage and breeding ground for wild elephants .It is situated just 77 km Northeast of capital Colombo on a 25-acre (10 ha) beautiful coconut plantation on the Maha Oya river.

The orphanage was primarily designed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka to feed, nurse house young elephants, found abandoned by their mothers. In most of these cases the mother had either died or been killed. In some instances the baby had fallen into a pit and in others the mother had fallen in and died. Other inmates at the orphanage are those displaced from their natural environs by development project or those found diseased or wounded.

The aim of the orphanage is to simulate the natural world. However, there are some exceptions: the elephants are taken to the river twice daily for a bath, and all the babies under three years of age are still bottle fed by the mahouts and volunteers.

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Daily Activities

At Pinnawela an attempt was made to simulate, in a limited way, the conditions in the wild. Animals are allowed to roam freely during the day and a herd structure allowed forming. 08.00 The babies are fed on milk in the mornings and allowed to range freely on the 12 acres large grassland. 10.00 Each morning and afternoon 14.00 the animals are walked 400 meters to the river Maha Oya for a two-hour bath. Between 16.30 and 1800 in the evening the animals are taken to their stalls and tethered for the night. They are then given their evening feed which is milk again for the babies and leaves for the older ones.

The elephants are stall fed. There is very little food material that they can gather from the premises of the orphanage except grass. Large quantities of food are brought in daily. Jackfruit (Artocarpus integra), coconut (Cocos nucifera),, kitul (Caryoty urens), tamarind and grass form the bulk of the food given to the elephants Each animal gets approximately 75 kg of green matter a day and in addition each gets 2kg of a food mixture containing maize, rice bran, powdered gingelly seed and minerals. They have access to water twice a day from the river Maha Oya that runs by the Orphanage.

Breeding History

The conditions at Pinnawela are conducive to breeding .Initially the breeding animals consisted of males Vijaya and Neela and females Kumari, Anusha, Mathalie and Komali.

Up to the middle of 1998 there have been 14 births, 8 males and 6 females at Pinnawela, with one second generation birth early 1998.

The father of the first three calves born at Pinnawela was Vijaya. It was not possible to determine the father of the next calves since many males used to mate with the females in oestrus. Now through DNA finger printing the fathers of three have definitely been identified.

Vijaya and Kumari have produced three calves at intervals of five and four years. The first birth at Pinnawela was in 1984, a female, to Vijaya and Kumari who were aged 21 and 20 years respectively at the time of the birth. In 1993 Vijaya and Kumari were 30 and 29 years respectively. There are other records of the birth of elephants in captivity in Sri Lanka but most of these are off females that had been captured after they had conceived in the wild. There are also records of tamed elephants having mated with other tamed elephants and giving birth. These are however few and far between.

The other elephant deaths in recent times are as follows with the relevant date and cause of death: Vijaya - September 11, 1999, brain cancer, Honda Kota - February 20, 1999, severe injuries to the trunk and body at the time it was handed over by the Wildlife Department, Binari - January 3, 2003, head injury and paralysis, baby elephant born to Lasanda - March 20, 2004 dashed on the ground by the mother and baby elephant of Nikini - April 22, 2004, born dead. 

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