Elephant toilet paper made from its own faeces, elephant shaped badges, fridge magnets, biscuits, clothes, bags, ornaments, you name it Pinnawala Elephant ‘Orphanage’ sells it.
Excitement was bubbling up inside me as we arrived at the gates to Pinnawala; I had been waiting two long years for this visit. My partner, who has seen elephants on several occasions (whose family are originally from Sri Lanka) was not as excited as me and was more concerned to of the distance to the nearest bar.
A hot, sticky, tedious hour later through the queues and paying a large amount of money we arrived at the main entrance only to discover large herds of people pushing their way to the front eager to see a glimpse of the elephants, it was like being in a shopping mall on a Christmas eve, it was unbearable and impossible to see anything. After waiting two years for this trip I was not hanging about, I pushed and shoved my way blindly to the front of the crowds, my partner dragging behind. The elephants were majestic creatures I had never seen such beauty. But to my disappointment, dismay and utter disgust once I had got a closer look I realised that these beautiful animals were chained up and being hit at least several times with a sharp pointy stick if they were not performing tricks.
Suddenly the elephants started to be dragged and heaved towards the gates; they were being taken for a wash in the local river, which was surrounded by shop after shop selling elephant memorabilia. I assumed this would be a great opportunity to see the elephants in their natural habitat. Unfortunately this was not the case, the elephants were not splashing about having fun as I had imagined, and they all stood in a huddle in the water doing nothing. One baby elephant attempted to wander off past some rocks to the deeper part of the river, but one of the park worker’s hit the baby elephant at least four times to make it turn around and go back to it’s herd.
I am not an elephant expert but I could tell from the crowd’s reactions and my personal feelings that these elephants were not happy and were being mistreated. People were walking away in disgust, I couldn’t move I was overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions; this was a place I didn’t want to be in.
Not wanting to jump to conclusions we headed to the local bar (to my partner’s delight) to get a local’s point of view. Fortunately my partner being able to speak Tamil (the local language), we were able to speak to quite a few people who confirmed our concerns and informed us that Pinnawala was not as ethical as they make out. In fact the majority of elephants spend their entire lives at Pinnawala, some of them are sold to private clients for tourism purposes and some are sold and chained to temples.
This was a very upsetting day for both of us, and a complete disgrace to my partner’s culture. Please don’t let this put you off visiting the enchanting country of Sri Lanka, just please don’t spend your money in this treacherous place. Fortunately a recent report has issued that Pinnawala has recently been recognised for its lack of quality care of animals and the park is now under close surveillance with the Sri Lankan authorities.