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“Many doubts about the elephants' welfare”

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Ranked #1 of 4 things to do in Pinnawala
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Useful Information: Activities for older children
Reviewed 17 August 2014

I was taken here as part of a group tour. It is difficult to make judgments on the basis of one visit, but I did not like this place and would suggest others think carefully before going there. The elephants in the river certainly provide an attractive opportunity for tourist photos, but I wondered in retrospect whether they enjoy having to stand in the river for a couple of hours at a time. We arrived towards the end of the morning session and by that time the elephants were just standing, not being bathed or doing anything else much.Some had chains attached to their legs and at least a couple were chained in one place. In the main part of the facility, which we visited next, most of the elephants (presumably those which had just been brought back from the river) had been taken to a large bare area, without shade or food, so visitors could get photographs with them. I do not know how long they were required to stay there. A few elephants were chained in the roofed enclosures. Particularly disturbing was the sight of a baby elephant, chained up alone on a short chain and rocking compulsively back and forth in what appeared to be distress. We were told that some of the elephants are orphans but there is also an active breeding program, which raises the question of whether the baby elephants which visitors can pay to feed are orphans or babies taken from their mothers. I would be glad to be convinced otherwise, but I had the strong impression that, whatever good intentions there may have been when this place was founded, the welfare of the elephants now comes a distant second to their commercial exploitation.

5  Thank kirkw00d
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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1,824 - 1,828 of 3,394 reviews

Reviewed 17 August 2014

The Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka is one of its kind in the world.
It is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground all " under one roof ".
Elephants that are driven away from their herd, those that have fallen into open wells, tanks, or slipped and fallen down a hill side are all brought here, treated by veterinary doctors specialized in elephant care and domesticated.
It looked as though it was the largest herd of three generation of elephants, in the world - I may be wrong.
There are over 50 mahouts to look after these elephants.
There are quite a few young girls looking after the very young elephants.
There are quite a number of them there, many of them are so young that they are bottle fed.
Very playful young elephants.
There is one big elephant there which was badly injured when it stepped on a land mine.
He cannot stand on its own and is propped up by supports, one leg is bent.
I was told that it has been standing like this for the last 22 years.
No one is allowed to go near it, but my niece managed to up to him, talk to him, and as though he understood what she was saying, put out his trunk to caress her.
I don't understand why the orphanage is making suffer like this, he should haven put to sleep when they found that he couldn't have a normal life.
Any way, it was nice to watch the large herd of elephants following a young elephant, who I was told was the " leader " to the river for their daily bath.

Thank Chachan321
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 16 August 2014

The elephants seem to be looked after very well. They go down to the river twice a day for several hours - so have plenty of fun and recreation. They are well fed - 75kgs per day each. And even the elephant with only 3 legs - land mine - seem happy. There was no evidence of pacing back and forward or other signs of distress. We enjoyed our visit.

There are plenty of reports and stories about these elephants being sold to temples and others who may mistreat them; NOT seeing them at the orphanage probably doesn't change that and hopefully the entry fees are put to good use.
We were offered a closer encounter with the elephants - hand feeding the bananas - and then asked for cash but once it was clear we didn't agree to any payment, we were left in peace. A firm no was all it took. Otherwise, an very interesting and enjoyable couple of hours. I'd recommend it to friends and family.

1  Thank Simon B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 15 August 2014 via mobile

I wanted to make my own mind up after reading all the reviews. I left still not knowing how I felt and slightly concerned at the 2,500 entry price.

I think this place started for the right reasons but tourism is taking over from its main purpose and they're getting carried away with the feeding and photos and touching them etc (none of which I did)

It's a sight to be seen but obviously the best thing would be to go and see elephants on safari.

Thank CatSutcliffe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 15 August 2014

I have very mixed feelings on this place. Considering it's an orphanage, from what we could see the elephants weren't treated that well. All the elephants had chains around their legs, some around their necks too, and the ones who were chained to something had very short chains so couldn't move much. There was one extremely sad looking baby elephant who was chained to a fence, and she was rocking and rubbing her feet trying to get the chains off. Eventually they allowed her mother near her, who calmed her down a little, but the poor baby was still clearly distressed. When I asked why she was chained, the keeper simply said 'training', and refused to elaborate. A lot of the other elephants were rubbing at their chains as well, and we saw one pick up a stick and poke at the chains. We paid 350Rs so I could feed a baby elephant their milk, which was a good experience but lasted about 30 seconds as they drink the milk extremely quickly! We then went down to watch them bathe in the river, which was a nicer experience. They all looked very content here, although were still chained. The keepers invited people into the river with them to bathe the elephants which was one of the best experiences. Another downer on this place was the fact that if you touched an elephant or washed one, the keeper would ask you for money, and when you didn't oblige would pretend you didn't exist and not let you near their elephant anymore. Seemed a bit corrupt to me.

Thank Tilly M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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