The Pinnawala Elephant Orphange spans 25 acres and is located in very close proximity to the Maha Oya, which is where the elephants are taken for baths. Pinnawala Orphanage has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world, with most of elephants having either lost their mother, separated from the herd, or found in the wilderness in an incapacitated state. In 2011, there were 96 elephants, including 43 males and 68 females from 3 generations, living in Pinnawala.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was established by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1975 for feeding and providing care and sanctuary to orphaned baby elephants that were found in the wild. The orphanage was located at the Wilpattu National Park, then shifted to the tourist complex at Bentota and then to the Dehiwala Zoo. From the Zoo it was shifted to Pinnawala village on a 25-acre (10 ha) coconut plantation adjacent to the Maha Oya River.
The orphanage was established to feed, nurse and house young elephants found abandoned by their mothers. Young elephants sometimes fall into pits and ravines in their quest for water during drought period. Other orphans have been displaced from their wild habitat by development projects or have been found abandoned before weaning, diseased or wounded. The two main attractions for visitors is the bottle-feeding session which is followed by the bathing time. If you're lucky the handlers might even pick you to feed the baby elephants, who happen to be just plain adorable most of the time. Most of the elephants at the orphanage are very domesticated and friendly so they've even got platforms set up where you can feed the larger elephants’ fruits. Don’t miss the chance to watch the bottle-feeding time at 9.15am, 13.15am or at 05.00pm and bathing of the elephants at the river nearby at 10.00am to 12:00pm & 02.00pm-04:00pm. Sharing time with an elephant’s life will be a memorable experience in your life.
It was planned for the facility to attract local and foreign visitors, the income from which would help to maintain the orphanage. The Pinnawala Orphanage has since become a tourist attraction. In 1978, the orphanage was taken over by the Department of National Zoological Gardens Sri Lanka. In 1982 an elephant breeding program was launched. As of 2012, there were 78 elephants living here.
This elephant orphanage conducts captive breeding of some elephants in its care. The natural environment and health care and feeding at Pinnawala made the elephant breeding program a success. The first birth at Pinnawala was in 1984, Sukumalee, a female was born to Vijaya and Kumar who were aged 21 and 20 years respectively at the time. The males Vijaya and Neela and females Kumari, Anusha, Mathalie and Komali have since then parented several baby elephants. More than twenty-three elephants were born from 1984 to 1991. In 1998 there were fourteen births at Pinnawala, eight males and six females, with one second generation birth in early 1998. Since then till 2nd of July 2015, 70 more were born at Pinnawala.
Most of the elephants at Pinnawala are healthy and once attaining adulthood, will be retained within the facility mostly since they have become dependent on supplied food. A few disabled elephants are given residential care. One tusker, Raja is blind, and one female, named Sama, lost her front right leg to a land mine.