I usually do more research on places that involve animals before I go, but my Sri Lankan friend said he was going to take me to an Elephant Orphanage and I really didn’t even consider that caring about the ethical treatment of animals is definitely more common in Western Culture. It never crossed my mind that the minutia of how animals are looked after and the quality of their living conditions really aren’t as important to many local people in Asian countries.
Which is how I ended up at the Pinnwala Elephant Orphanage.
To be fair to my friend, once I pointed out how awful it was that the elephants’ feet were chained and that they were kept in line through the use of a sharp, pointed stick, and that some elephants were kept apart from the others and chained so closely to trees and thick wooden posts that they couldn’t even take one single step in any direction, he realized that this popular tourist attraction really isn’t such a great place.
Responsibletravel.com did an excellent story about the Pinnwala Elephant Orphanage and their history of abuse of the elephants in their care and their focus on tourist dollars rather than the animals themselves, which can you read here.
It’s extremely comprehensive, and what I like the most about it is that it even gives readers an alternative option for those who still want to visit elephants during their stay in Sri Lanka.
Apparently, an organization known as the Elephant Transit Home in the south of the country is far more ethical in regard to how it cares for the elephants and their purpose as a company.
While ResponsibleTravel does a far better job than I could do, based on just one visit and a bit of internet research afterwards, of describing the atrocious living conditions of the elephants, I can at least say that based on personal experience I know their criticism of Pinnwala Elephant Orphanage to be entirely deserved.
I hated being at the Elephant Orphanage and left after less than 10 minutes. It was just too disheartening to see how the elephants were being treated and how everything was meant to cater to the tourists who came to visit rather than the animals who lived there.
The only part I enjoyed was watching the elephants bathe at the river because at least then their feet weren’t chained and they mostly looked to be enjoying themselves.
Other than that all I have to say is that I’m extremely sorry that I gave money to this organization, and if you’re considering going… don’t. Instead go to the Elephant Transit Home if you’re visiting Sri Lanka and want to spend time with these truly majestic, gentle giants.
Don’t make the same mistake as me. As travelers we should all commit to researching organizations that deal with animals before we show our support by giving them our money (either in the form of donations or entrance ticket sales).