While I was in Sri Lanka, I heard about the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and from the name, I felt it was absolutely necessary to see these beautiful creatures being loved and cared for. In Thailand, you will see elephants walking through a very busy street with their mahout (owner), begging for money. Elephant tourism in Southeast Asia is a real issue. Elephants are mistreated and used for monetary gain regardless of their health or living conditions. Elephants are not supposed to be living in a huge city, they’re supposed to be in the jungle. Unfortunately, my experience at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was exactly the opposite of what I thought it would be.
In fact, I was so overwhelmed by the blatant display of animal abuse that I left after 20 minutes. Nothing about an elephant pacing back and forth, stomping his feet, and screaming while a “mahout” is beating him with a stick leads me to believe this is a respectable establishment.
Any time a “mahout” went near an elephant, they turned away quickly and tried to run. Elephants are loving animals, they don’t run away from someone who takes good care of them. Why are they running away from these men?
While the elephants were taking a bath in the river, they would start to play and a mahout would stab them with the bullhook.
If you went a little “too close” to an elephant, someone would pull you closer, take pictures of you and then demand you give them money.
They even have Milk Feeding Time where two baby elephants run around a corral waiting for someone to pay extra money to feed them milk.
This is supposed to be an orphanage, not a circus.
According to Lucky, my taxi friend, there are over 100 elephants in this “orphanage.” If there aren’t any baby elephants to bring in extra money for the Milk Feeding Time, these men go into the jungle and kidnap baby elephants from their mothers. What started out as an orphanage has turned into Sri Lanka’s worst tourist attraction.
I can’t be the only person who felt this was completely horrible and a scam. That’s why I left, but there were so many other tourists staying to take pictures, smiling, and laughing. For that reason, The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is able to commit the same crimes that they have been for years. If tourists are willing to pay, they will continue to do more harm than good.
This isn’t about being overly sensitive or not seeing the behind the scenes of the organization and how they actually “care for the animals.” This is about common sense. Animals should not be treated poorly. If they are openly abusing these elephants, I don’t even want to think about how they’re treating them behind the scenes.
How can you help? For starters, don’t be quiet about what you see. Speak up! And speak loudly. The more people know, the less they’ll want to go. Tell your friends, write reviews, and do your part. One person can’t shut down this entire thing, it’ll take many people sharing their experiences to make a tiny dent.
So, here I am, begging you to skip this “tourist attraction” during your visit in Sri Lanka. Nothing good comes from this stop in your itinerary. Do your research and do something else.
There are so many elephant related activities to choose from while you’re in Southeast Asia and it’s important to not choose these companies without research. Before I went elephant trekking, I contacted 5 organizations and read hundreds of reviews. Be informed – it could make or break your excursion.
If you’ve been to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment and let me know about your experience.