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“Mixed feelings” 3 of 5 stars
Review of Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Colombo-Kandy Road | 90km from Colombo, Pinnawala, Sri Lanka
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Ranked #1 of 1 attractions in Pinnawala
Type: Nature/ Wildlife Areas
Useful Information: Activities for older children
Attraction Details
Useful Information: Activities for older children
Top Contributor
107 reviews 107 reviews
31 attraction reviews
Reviews in 54 cities Reviews in 54 cities
90 helpful votes 90 helpful votes
“Mixed feelings”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed March 23, 2013 via mobile

I enjoyed very much looking at the elephants while they were bathing , but it broke my heart to see that several elephants were chained. Altogether this felt more like a zoo than an orphanage. On top of this it is extremely expensive for foreigners: 2000 rupies! To ne it seemed just another of many tourist traps you find all over Sri Lanka. You are better off if you go to Yala National Park, wheee you can see free elephants.

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811 reviews from our community

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Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
4 reviews 4 reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
“A must visit”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 22, 2013 via mobile

Great fun for the whole family. I have kids and they say it was one of the best experiences of their lives

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Winchester, United Kingdom
16 reviews 16 reviews
3 attraction reviews
Reviews in 16 cities Reviews in 16 cities
39 helpful votes 39 helpful votes
“Almost didn't visit! That would have been our loss.”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed March 20, 2013

Have seen some of the very negative reviews on here and cannot help wondering if they visited the same place!

We arrived in Sri Lanka with this attraction firmly on our list of must do's. We also met a couple at one hotel who had already visited and they were most upset by what they saw and the fact that the elephants were chained!? In addition our guide was also quick to point out that that there are other 'more hands on' elephant places to visit such as Millenium just down the road.

In the end we decided that we came with the intention of visiting and would likely regret it if we did not. So glad we did visit it was wonderful.

We arrived at the river about 12.00 and the elephants were already in the water, so we saw them bathe and then return up the shop/restaurant thoroughfare and across the road back into the 'orphanage'. I should point out that it was clear that we picked a quiet day/time to visit as there were fewer than 100 people there.

We did not hang around for the feeding as this was delayed to 14.00 and we had a long journey ahead, but instead took a look around for ourselves. Starting with the darling baby elephants (rescued from wells) we got up fairly close to a few larger elephants as they ate the foliage provided for them and also saw the one with the shortenned leg due to a land-mine. These may have had a chain on then (for use when required) but they were certainly not attached to anything.

We used the 'foreign visitor' toilets and these were sparkling and signs clearly stated that they were FREE. Some of the cleaners may have appeared to be looking for tips, but this was easily ignored. After purchasing water and pringles at very reasonable prices, we walked up to the 'open' area where most of the elephants roam freely under the watchfull eyes of their keepers.

Fed one elephant and that was a highlight and photo opportunity - just 200 Rupees (£1) I think and you get an official ticket/receipt. Entrance was 2000 R each.

Bumped into a delightful set of children visiting with their teachers and they were keen to speak with us as was typical of the Sri Lankans generally on on our trip.

VERY pleased we didn't get put off visitnig by the minority of objectors.

Visited March 2013
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Lichfield, United Kingdom
4 reviews 4 reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
“Stunning elephants and truly amazing experience”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 20, 2013

This was the main attraction that I wanted to see on my trip to SL in Oct 2012 and what a sight it was!! We saw these fellas in their large groups both feeding in the orphanage and also at the riverside having a bathe and a bit of a play around for the younger ones. Was great fun, could've sat there for ages just watching them at the river. Also got a chance to feed one of the baby elephants and have a few pictures taken. It's a decent sized orphanage. Was a privilege to also see the original elephant from when the orphanage started up as well as one who'd had one of his legs blown away in a land mine accident (during the war, i think). The place is unique and looks like the elephants really are treated well! Even saw a group of disabled elephants being treated the same in terms of trips to the river and feeding (albeit in a separate group, to stop any trouble i'm guessing).

Tip: be prepared to have a bit of cash on you if you want to feed the elephants or even have some close up photo's taken with them. It's well worth it!

Visited October 2012
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Camborne, Cornwall
16 reviews 16 reviews
Reviews in 16 cities Reviews in 16 cities
26 helpful votes 26 helpful votes
“Life enhancing”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed March 18, 2013

I first visited the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in 2003, returned in 2010 and revisited in 2012. In consequence, I have had the chance to observe developments and changes over the course of a decade. I am also aware that there are some sharp divisions of opinion regarding the place, and have read a selection of derogatory comments from some visitors. To them, I simply say that I do not recognise picture they paint. There is also about some of the comments an aura of rather priggish 1st world condescension, which is unappealing.

Let's, therefore, try to inject a sense of proportion as well as, I would add, fairness. Sri Lanka is an impoverished country. Furthermore, it has only recently emerged from a bitter civil war, which claimed the lives of well over 100,000 of its citizens, not to mention a huge expenditure of scarce resources - financial and otherwise. On top of this, it was ravaged by the appalling tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, from the effects of which it is still far from having emerged. Against these unpromising and unhelpful circumstances, the orphanage has continued its work, almost always on a shoe string. Happily, there are indications that it is now being run on a less restricted budget, and infra-structure is in place which was assuredly not there in either 2003 or 2010.

Naturally, the orphanage is a tourist hot spot but is not just a cynical 'tourist trap', and, yes, you do have to pay. It is also true that non-Sri Lankan citizens are charged more, although not that much more. One might reasonably ask what on earth do foreign detractors expect? Looking after two or three score of large animals doesn't come cheap, even in a 3rd world country. Moreover, the reality in 2012 was that native visitors far outnumbered foreigners. The suggestion from some that mahoots and other staff are grasping is a small minded canard. My own experience has been quite the opposite. Friendly engagement and a willingness in a small way to help economically produces a reaction that is forthcoming, cheerful and helpful. To whingers who bellyache about having to part with a few tips, my response is "Change your attitude. After all, you are the visitor in their country, and you have vastly greater resources than those you choose to criticise."

All of which being said, overwhelmingly the most important consideration is, and must be, the welfare of the animals. On every occasion that I've visited, with a couple of exceptions which I touch upon below, they've always appeared to be satisfactorily round and healthy. They are plainly well fed, and twice a day they are taken down to the river to bathe, wallow and powder themselves in the dust bowls on the far bank. We are not elephants, and so cannot know with certainty what they are feeling. All we can do is try to deduce their state of mind from observation of their behaviour. On this basis, my own estimation is that life for them is great.

Someone has written that they observed repetitive behaviour indicating unhappiness. At Pinnawala, I have seen NO such thing. On the contrary, the elephants appear calm and contented. By way of example, there are few species which will placidly tolerate the approach of a complete stranger to a calf. At Pinnawala they will not only tolerate an approach, they will allow gentle petting of the offspring. If one is lucky enough to experience this, it is life enhancing and, at Pinnawala, such enhancements are commonplace!

It has been suggested that the staff maltreat the animals by prodding and striking them. It is true that mahoots do both but, in my experience, never viciously. It is also true that some, though by no means all, the animals are shackled. Perhaps those who complain might care to reflect that an elephant is a bloody big animal with a thick and tough hide. They are not going readily to respond to a brush from a powder puff! They might also care reflect that staff probably know a little more about their charges than they do, and that staff have a responsibility for public safety.

So, what of the less happy members of the pachiderm community? So far as one can tell from a fleeting visit, the few examples that there are seem to fall into three categories. Firstly, there are those which are plainly a little skeletal, probably the old and the temporarily sick - well, one hopes. Secondly, there is one splendid and awesome old tusker, formerly a ceremonial elephant from the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, who lives alone in his shelter. His desperately sad fate was to be shot and blinded after some fool (as like as not a cretinous tourist) threw a Chinese fire cracker under his feet, causing him to panic and run amok. That said, for all his imprssive bulk, he too in wondrously placid and gentle. Of course, if some idiotic tourist does something stupid, there may be a danger that he will be trodden upon - though, for my money, not nearly hard enough! The third, and most poignant of all, is a little female first encountered in 2003, who was the wholly innocent victim of human wickedness. She had had her right forefoot blown off by a land mine, and had been rescued and nursed back to something approaching health. Though obviously kindly meant, it remains hard to know with conviction whether or not, in the long run, this was in her best interests. However, for eight or nine years, she was able to manage with her chums, and with them each day hobbled down to the river. In December 2012, she did not seem to be in great shape, and my own feeling is that a bullet might actually be a kinder option than a suffering extistence. That said, I do not see her regularly, and so am assuredly in no position to be judgemental.............and neither is any other occasional visitor!

In summary, Pinnawala is not perfect. It has its flaws, but these are slowly being addressed as funding is made available. It is most certainly not simply a cynical money making venture. It needs, and deserves to get, support. Foreigners should regard it as a privilege to be in a position to provide some.


Visited December 2012
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