Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants all rolled into one.   Located at Pinnawala village, in the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka, I was lucky enough to make a visit to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage during my time in Sri Lanka, although I did leave it a little late – my last full day.  Here’s a little bit of info about the orphanage and my own visit to see Nelly and her friends.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage


The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was first established by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1975 for feeding and providing care and sanctuary to orphaned baby elephants that were found in the wild. The orphanage was first located at the Wilpattu National Park and had several more homes before finally settling in Pinnawala village on a 25-acre coconut plantation adjacent to the Maha Oya River.  As of 2012, there were 78 elephants living there.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Elephant care

Pinnawala elephant orphanage was established to feed, nurse and house young elephants found abandoned by their mothers.  There are 48 mahouts (handlers) who take care of the elephants.

The elephants are fed in their stalls. There is very little food they can gather from the premises of the orphanage except some grass. Large quantities of jackfruit, coconut, kitul (sugar palm), tamarind and grass, brought in daily, form the bulk of the elephants food. Each adult animal is given around 76 kilograms (170 lb) of this green matter per day and around 2 kg (4.4 lb) from a food bag containing rice bran and maize.

Elephant breeding

Pinnawala elephant orphanage conducts a successful captive breeding promgramme. The first birth at Pinnawala was in 1984, Sukumalee, a female was born to Vijaya and Kumar who were aged 21 and 20 years respectively at the time.

More than twenty-three elephants were born from 1984 to 1991. In 1998 there were fourteen births at Pinnawala, eight males and six females, with one second generation birth in early 1998. Since then till early 2012, 84 more were born at Pinnawalla.


Pinnawala elephant orphanage is very popular among locals and foreign tourists. Like many tourists, myself and a few fellow volunteers hoped on a bus from Colombo and set out to see the larger elephants bath in the Maha Oya River, and the calves feeding from their bottles.  Cute!  The orphanage is open to the public daily, and happily I can report that all admission fees –  LKR 2,000 per adult (£10, $15 or €12) – are used to look after the elephants.  Opening hours can vary, but they tend to be between 8.30 am and 6pm. lists the daily schedule as follows …

Time Whats happening
08.30 hours Open to visitors
09.15 hours Bottle feeding
10.00 hours Herd leaving to the river
12.00 hours Return from the river
13.15 hours Bottle feeding
14.00 hours Herd leaving to the river
16.00 hours Return from the river
17.00 hours Bottle feeding
17.30 hours Ticket counters close
18.00 hours Close to public

Getting there

The orphanage not too far from Kegalle town and about 90km on the A1 from the countries capital city of Colombo.

If travelling by bus, head for Kegalle town and then change to a bus heading to Rambukkana.

My visit

The orphanage was pretty big, the gang and I covered a lot of ground in order to see feeding time, bath time and enjoy a short ride on an elephant (extra cost).  The small information centre was very interesting, detailing how elephants who had escaped capture were now being looked after within the orphanage.  It was extremely sad to see walking, the extent of what ill treatment can do to even the largest of animals.  At the other send of the scale, it was a delight to be able to not only watch, but get involved with feeding time.  All the mini elephants need their milk, and the Mahoots who look after the elephants are happy for you to help.

The riding of elephants is something I’ve come to not hate, but dislike at the very least.  Whilst the ride I took in Pinnawala was fun, a different Elephant ride in Thailand where I didn’t think the Elephants were very well treated has left me feeling as though my Elephant riding days are over.  I’m conscious that i’m quite heavy, so maybe that’s why I feel a little guilty also about putting a poor elephant through carrying me.  Maybe I made up for it a little by helping give the our big friend a bath in the river afterwards … yes we got wet and yes it was because he sprayed water all over us from his trunk.  FUN!  The ride and bath latest for around an hour or so and cost around  LKR 1,000 per adult (£5).

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Probably my favourite part of the day was was (mass) bath time.  Not the bath time of a single elephant our group got involved with, but when the whole herd went for a bath in the river.  My friends and I sat at a small bar amongst the gift shops and other facilities, and watched the herd trundle down to the river at the sound of a giant bell.  For almost 2 hours we simply sat and watched as elephants of all shapes and sizes danced around in the water.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanag

**Apologies for the quality of photo in the post. Sadly I lost my memory card with the digital files of these photos, so only have the hard copies which I had to scan on a copier in order to be able to post. They’re obviously not the greatest quality, but hopefully give you an idea of what the Orphanage looks like.