Sri Lanka,

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – do not go here!

pinnawala elephant orphanage

The ascent of Ella Peak made it obvious that my untrained lungs would not last any real stamina challenges. In addition J’s ruined knees would not manage a descent either. Thus, we had to remove Adam’s Peak and Sigiriya Rock from our travel plan.

Instead of excerices, views and cultural experiences we continued on our usual path: experiences with animals. Thus, we continued to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It should be noted that we (unfortunately) had not researched it well enough but what we had read about it seemed fantastic – a place where they take care of orphan elephant babies that lost their parents to poachers etc. We were looking forward to a place where volunteers took care of these majestic animals while preparing the for a life back in the wild and where one, as a tourist, could make a small difference.

The reality was something completely different.

After a long and sweaty bus ride we arrived what would best be described as a prison camp for elephants. Some elephants were chained to the concrete ground in areas that were called “Forest” and “Free land”, ironically. The majority were instead chained like cows in booths where they stood chewing on palm leaves. Several of them just stand waving back and forth in a very unhealthy manner.

elephant chained pinnwala sri lanka

An older elephant that they said was the alpha male.


Elephants Pinnawala elephant orphanage

This is how the elephants are standing. Feeding on palm leaves.


elephants pinnawala elephant orphanage

This is the part called “Forest”. Here, they stand on concrete floors and can barely reach their water.


elephant baby

Two elephants with different time left to serve.


elephant tourist photo

Sometime to enlarge and frame in your ivory frame perhaps?


free land pinnawala elephant orphanage

This area is called “Free land” and is the home of exactly 0 elephants (when we are there) but I highly doubt they get to roam free there either.

At least the youngest elephants get to go down to the river, twice a day, to play and cool off. This is where the majority of the photos from Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage are take and what all the good reviews on TripAdvisor seems to be about. Of course they are happy when they get to go away from their “cell”!

I have heard afterwards that some elephants actually get to walk freely but when we asked at the orphanage they said the elephants were chained all the time, so I am not really sure how much they actually are just stuck on their concrete floor.

Sure, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage takes care of elephant babies but the plan seems to be:

  1. Take care of the elephant baby
  2. Chain it to a booth with concrete floor
  3. Demand 2.500 Rp in entrance fee from tourists (which is a lot in Sri Lanka)
  4. Charge a bit more to get to be photographed with the prisoners
  5. Never ever bring them back to the wil
  6. Repeat

Yuck! Do not go here! I feel ashamed for having passively sponsored this miserable place.

My recommendation: It should be quite obvious at this point. If you feel that it feels sweet to pet chained elephants (which you can do for a “donation” to the guide) and brag about in in social media then, by all means, do come! You can probably motivate it with that they “actually save elephants”. Why not only post photos from elephants playing at the river to give a just view of the place.

My thought about it is that if you want to see elephants you have some sort of love for animals and then a visit to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is completely wrong. Put your money here instead.

My last comment is a different type of warning. Do not take a tuk tuk to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It is a common scam to bring tourists to a nearby elephant park, with a similar name, where they charge you even more!

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My name is Christoffer Björkwall and I am a 36 year old guy from Sweden. I have been travelling ever since I was a kid. These are the stories from trips from the past and, of course, trips I am doing now. I love mountains, beaches, wild animals, storms & tornadoes, skiing, scuba diving, adventure sports etc when I travel. I am not equally fond of historical and cultural locations (like churches). I usually keep my trips on a low budget because I rather go on one more trip than on one expensive trip.

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