Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Elephants at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Elephants are a big deal in Sri Lanka: they are considered holy animals and are therefore important in religion (and widely used in religious ceremonies). Until modern times they were commonly used in war (the old-school equivalent of the tank) and for transportation (with no roads and heavy jungle it's the best way to get around!). Until recently they were also commonly used for industrial purposes, especially for logging. Sri Lanka had so many elephants that it was a major export center.
R gawping at elephants
Wow, so cool!
Today Sri Lanka still has a lot of elephants, relatively speaking (it has the highest density of wild elephants in Asia). This actually causes a lot of problems, because elephants, being very large animals, need a lot of space and food, and with a rapidly growing human population conflicts are inevitable. The number of elephants has fallen more than 50% in the last sixty years: maybe 6% of the entire population die annually. They face a very high risk of extinction.
Elephants being bathed (they need to be bathed daily)
One attempt to deal with these issues is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which is the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. It acts as an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding center. We visited the herd, which was pretty incredible.
Once they are all clean, it's time to go back to land
During the day the female and young elephants roam freely in the center's compound of a few acres: twice a day they are herded to the nearby river for bathing (elephants love water), escorted by their handlers (mahouts).
All sizes of elephant, moving in a herd: elephants are very social
You have the best opportunity to see them as they pass by, although you are not allowed to touch them or get too close, because elephants can be dangerous. The mahouts had a hard job simultaneously keeping tabs on the curious elephants, especially the babies, and the reluctantly obedient tourists, who wanted to get as close as possible for photos and maximum cuteness exposure.
Still pretty close!
The elephants use their trunks to investigate, just like it was a hand
Baby elephant breaking the rules: "I want to see!!"
Last of the herd leaving the river
It was really incredible to see the elephants so close, in such a large group (which then made it possible to observe some of their social behavior). We saw them playing, rolling around in the water, petting each other with their trunks, and generally investigating their environment. They seem like such intelligent creatures. It's absolutely worth a visit!
I am so happy to see elephants!!!!

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