Among the green hills of Kegalle, about 50 miles (85km) from Colombo on the road to Kandy in the hill country, a herd of about 75 elephants roam free in the Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage. This popular attraction, established as a sanctuary covering 25 acres of lush forest by the Sri Lankan Government in 1975, is unique. Its purpose is to feed, nurse and house young elephants lost or abandoned by their mothers. Recently the sanctuary has also started a breeding programme.
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The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was started in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife on a twenty five acre coconut property on the Maha Oya river at Rambukkana. The orphanage was primarily designed to afford care and protection to the many baby elephants found in the jungle without 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. Initially this orphanage was at the Wilpattu National Park, then shifted to the tourist complex at Bentota and then to the Dehiwala Zoo.
From the Dehiwala Zoo it was shifted 1975 to Pinnawela. At the time it was shifted the orphanage had five baby elephants which formed its nucleus. It was hoped that this facility would attract both local and foreign visitors, the income from which would help to maintain the orphanage.
There are only a few elephant orphanages in the world. Pinnawela has now become one of the bigger orphanages and is quite well known world wide.
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 to form.
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 18.00 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.