Suitcase and World: Elephants!

Monday, July 16, 2012


Photo by bgag
It somehow seems fitting for me to close out the Research and Planning part of this blog with a post on elephants since their procession during the Esala Perahera was what inspired me to go on this trip in the first place.  Yes, I blame it all on the elephants :-)

In case you hadn't already figured it out, I love elephants.  There's something about these large, lumbering giants that really tugs at my heartstrings.  I always smile when I see images of them.  Like many people I've seen elephants in zoos but I've never seen one in the open, let alone in the wild.  In Yala National Park, we'll have a chance to see elephants roaming free.  I'm really excited about being able to see these creatures in their native habitat.

Aside from the seeing them parading in the Esala Perahera, we'll also be visiting the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is the largest of its kind in the world. 

The elephants that call Pinnawala home are Asian elephants and although they may look like their African cousins at first glance, they are in fact, quite different. I don't know what all the differences are but I think for one, Asian elephants have smaller ears.

Pinnawala 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 the beginning, the orphanage had five baby elephants and the population has grown over the years.  In 2011, there were 88 elephants, including 37 males and 51 females, from 3 generations, living in Pinnawal.

In 1978 the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was taken over by the National Zoological Gardens from the Department of Wildlife and a captive breeding program launched in 1982.

At Pinnawela an attempt is 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.  The animals also have a daily routine.

8:00 am The babies are fed on milk in the mornings and allowed to range freely on the 12 acres large grassland.  I want to be there to feed the babies!  They are beyond adorable!

10:00 am and 2:00 pm afternoon the animals are walked down to the river Maha Oya for a two-hour bath.  It would be fun to walk alongside them.....well, as close as we can and not risk being trampled over :-)

I don't think tourists get to bathe with the animals but just in case, I'm planning on wearing my swimsuit under my clothes and have a towel and change of clothing with me.  If there is even the remotest chance that I can scrub down an elephant, I'm doing it!

Between 4:30 pm and 6:00pm the animals are taken to their stalls, tethered for the night and fed their evening meal.

As there is very little food that they can gather from the premises of the orphanage except grass, the elephants are stall fed - milk for the babies and leaves for the adults  Large quantities of food are brought in daily.  Coconut leaves, leaves and branches from jackfruit trees and kitul palms as well as grass form the bulk of the food fed to the elephants. Each adult gets approximately 75 kg of green matter a day and in addition each gets 2kg of a food mixture containing maize, rice bran and minerals.

Unfortunately, we won't hang around to see the elephants be put in for the night.  I did find several websites that will arrange for people to volunteer at Pinnawala.  You never know, I might be back.

I am ready to go to see the elephants and to experience Sri Lanka!!