If you go to Sri Lanka, and you like animals, you probably want to see elephants. I will give you some options and things to think about. When animal encounters are commercialized it is not always the animal’s best interest are considered. For example, Pinnawala has become extremely touristy with the main attraction its famous elephant orphanage, and now everybody wants a piece of the cake. It was the place we were harassed by touts the most, and warned about the most. Pinnawala offers different kinds of elephant tourist attractions with the only purpose to make money from tourists, while the elephants, many of them “rescued” when their parents were killed, are living a life as slaves, making money for their owners. Always be extremely careful how you spend your money when animals are involved.
Lahugala elephants vs Lahugala villagers
Our coolest elephant encounter in Sri Lanka was the one in Lahugala. Never heard of Lahugala? Neither had we. It was by coincidence we saw and heard the commotion. We were heading back to Arugam Bay on our motor bike after a little ride. The sun had just set and it was already really dark. We heard the explosions first. And when driving further down the road we saw a lot of people along the road with extremely bright flash lights, making different loud noises. Apparently we were in the middle of the nightly routine, where the villagers were trying to force the elephants back into the jungle, and the elephants wanted to get a tasty snack from the crop. As we understood it, the elephants come every night, so it would be a pretty safe bet to try witnessing this yourself. Please let us know how it goes if you go there!
Check out where to stay in Arugam Bay here.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage – a sad prison like story
Here comes a big warning about going to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. We had heard recommendations about going to Pinnawala, but not looked it up properly as one should before visiting a place with animals. It was a sad, sad experience that I want to share to hopefully make the cruelty stop in the future. If many people choose not to go there – and therefore not spending money there supporting the industry, in the future it will get better for the elephants.
The elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage are all ages from babies to full grown adults. All of them spend their days in chains. Very tight chains. We heard elephants crying out loud. Not sobbing or whimpering. Real heart breaking roars. And we saw chained up massive adults just rocking back and forth because they had nowhere to go and nothing to do.
We saw workers caring more about their tip, hitting the elephant when it was not obeying, than caring about the elephant itself.
Reading up about what tourists do enjoy about Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage it seems to be the daily trip to the river. Also this trip to the river is made while the elephants are chained up, but at least they get to move a little.
Just don’t go there.
Elephants on the Kataragama–Buttala road
The Kataragama–Buttala road runs between two national parks and the elephants come here because people keep throwing food to them. In the mornings and afternoons there are always hungry elephants here. The food giving has become something like a toll fee, or bribe, to get let by to pass by the elephant. But be aware that elephants can be violent when they get pissed off!
How not to piss off an elephant on Kataragama–Buttala road
- Keep your distance and pass fast
- Especially don’t go near elephant babies
- Bribe the elephants with food (we really don’t condone feeding wild life – only do this if the elephant won’t let you pass – they are very capable of finding food in the jungle themselves)
Where to stay around Kataragama–Buttala
There are some cool places to stay around Kataragama, check them out here. You can also have a look at Buttala!