A Pinnawala elephant orphanage (PEO) was established in 1975 with the intention of taking care of orphaned elephants. Baby elephants become orphaned owing to various human activities. Getting shot from trap guns, loss of mothers, falling into farm wells,injuries caused by people and separated from families/herds are some of the major factors that contribute to animals become orphaned.
In an attempt to support and care for such orphaned animals, the Department of National Zoological Gardens bas established the PEO where they are well looked after. The orphanage was started with 5 elephants in 1975 and now the number has increased to 88. The permanent staff consists of 200 including two veterinary surgeons and a number of well-trained mahouts. As such, it is a successful captive breeding elephant centerin the world. In addition to looking after baby elephants, this center provides elephants forcultural events of the country such as Kandy Perahera. A considerable amount of fore iexchange is earned annually by this center by providing recreational opportunities forinternational tourists. The daily average of Sri Lankan visitors to PEO is about 700.
There are two ticket counters, one for locals and the other is for foreigners. Cost of entry tickets are wen displayed at both counters so that no one needs assistance from any person to know about the prices. The price of a ticket for an adult Sri Lankan is Rs. 110 and Rs. 30 for a child. Special concession of Rs. 20 per ticket is granted for school children who come in large groups. But they charge a considerably higher amount from visitors who come from overseas. A foreigner has to pay Rs. 3000 per ticket. But visitors from SAARC countries have to pay only Rs. 800 per ticket. It is worth spending this amount as the visitor has access to various other places within the premises without any additional cost such has education section, milk feeding place, fruit feeding place, elephants' free land, bathing place of elephants, rest rooms etc.
It is one of the specular activities included in their daily schedule. According to the elephants' daily features of interest displayed at the ticket counters, elephants' bathing time is scheduled from 10.00 o' clock to 12.00 during daytime. Thereafter, they attend to other routine activities such as feeding, resting and playing. The next bathing session is scheduled to start at 2.00 pm.
It was very interesting to see elephants bathing. Apparently, the playful juveniles prefer to lie down in the river bed with water flowing over their bodies while adults spend most of their time standing in water. Visitors spend a lot of time observing their behavioral patterns and slow movements in the water. We did not notice a single visitor leaving the herd during the two hour bathing period. The sight was that much fascinating. According to the caretakers of elephants at PEO, bathing is not only to clean their bodies but also to help control the body temperature of these mega beasts. Body cooling is an essential part of their routine work schedule. In addition, by flapping of their huge ears, elephants manage to get rid of heat to a considerable extent. A water cannon' had been Hxed at the river bank by a private agency to make elephants happier this useful equipment can provide an additional comfort to elephants by spraying water over them. Once it is in operation, the elephants tend to gather in one bunch to enjoy the additional comfort getting from the artificial shower.
It's interesting to note here, that some multi-storied hotels have been constructed along the river bank where elephants are taken for bath.The occupants of these hotels can have better view of elephants bathing from their balconies.It is apparent that those tourists enjoy watching the activities of majestic giants much more than locals..
At PEO one should not forget to have a look at the education section. Mr. Amila Wijethunga, a graduate officer attached to PEO provided us a lot of information not only about Pinnawala but also biological, ecological and behavioral patterns of elephants. His wife, Himashi seems to be a professional interpreter. She was capable enough to remove misconceptions about chaining elephants off our minds. Generally, elephants are aggressive animals. For our own safety they use chains just to keep them under control. Perhaps, if bulls are tied with chains as domesticated animals, why not elephants. One day will come; elephants free of chains. Use of hooks or anus on elephants may not be a joyful sight for an animal loving visitor, but to get the animals under control people have been practicing various techniques over the past few centuries.
Elephants are herbivores or plant eating ~ At PEO, elephants are fed with large variety of natural food items. Among them, leaves of jack, kithuland coconut are common. In addition, they are given supplementary diets such as banana, water melon, pineapple and kithil trunk etc. All these information are available at the education center. The friendly staff attached to fins section is always dedicated to assist you in need.