Brigadier P.C. Charles, Department of National Zoological Gardens
Dr. R. Chandana Rajapaksa, Veterinarian in Pinnawala Orphanage
Dr. Samanthi Mendis, Veterinarian in Pinnawala Orphanage
The department of wildlife Conservation established an “Elephant Orphanage” to care for elephants captured or found abandoned in the forest. With the help of local and foreign elephant experts Pinnawala got a modern centre for conservation and captive breeding of Asian elephants run by the National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka. Currently the orphanage houses 75 elephants, whereas the number is continually increasing due to the breeding successes at the orphanage. The number of infant mortality and stillbirths are very low with about one per year. DNA analyses have been carried out regarding the infants born prior to 1998 and the genetic relationship has now been confirmed.
Pinnawala belongs to the low wet geographical zone. Its geographical position mirrors the ideal habitat for Asian elephants due to the abundance of natural food in the surrounding area and the offer of daily access of fresh water.
“The elephant day” at the orphanage begins early in the morning. The stuff providing milk bottles to several young ones who are hand-fed. They get formula II powered milk four times during day and thrice at nighttimes.
Animals roam freely during the day in a herd structure, which conforms to natural conditions in the wild. At 10 am and 2 pm the elephants are walking 400 meters to the river Ma Oya, the third largest in Sri Lanka, for a two-hour bath.
After their return from the river at approximately 4.15 pm the elephants are taken to their barns and chained for the night. Afterwards they become their evening feed which is milk for the babies and leaves for the older ones. The leaves are mainly Coconut leaves (Cocos nucifera), but also branches from Jackfruit (Artocarpus integra) and leaves, branches and logs of Kitul palm tree (Caryoty urens). A grown-up elephant requires enormous amounts of 300 kilograms of foliage and 200 liters of water every day.
Visitors are allowed to enter after 8.30 am until 6.00 pm to stay a whole day with an elephant herd. Pinnawala provides a lot of attractions to the tourists; the orphanage is a popular destination of an excursion to foreign and local visitors.