I Like to think of myself as a kind of ‘glass half full’ kinda guy. I endeavour to see the silver linings in mistakes and the possibilities to learn that comes from having negative experiences. That being said, some things are just what they say on the tin. Negative.
I’ve struggled to write this post for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to give weight to negativity, it’s something that’s always been important to me but secondly, I don’t want to stay quiet when I see bad things happening. Especially in an area I care so much about.
Recently, I stumbled upon an Instagram profile that featured Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and the elephants in Pinnawala river. It instantly brought back memories of why it was important I share this post. 💛
Early last year, we visited the incredibly beautiful, Sri Lanka. We had the most amazing time, we climbed Lion Rock, visited Kandy and saw many of the temples that I’d dreamt of seeing – it was truly unforgettable…
…Until our last day when our local tour guide offered to show us around Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
On the surface of it all – it sounded fantastic – being able to positively contribute towards elephant welfare sounded like a dream (ever since I was little, I’ve had a thing for elephants – right down to have a cuddly elephant instead of a teddy bear like most kids).
As soon as we arrived my internal alarm bells started ringing. After our guide paid an entry fee, we were shuffled straight towards some chained elephants that the handlers wanted us to pose alongside for a crafty side payment. Apparently, this is not allowed but it happens at an alarming rate to EVERY visitor I saw.
After deciding to take a walk around the park, I quickly became horrified at how these elephants were treated. I passed numerous elephants chained in solitary confinement (which you can see in the photos).
Now, I can’t claim to understand elephant behavioural patterns fully but the fact they were shaking back and for and only doing repetitive movements disturbed me. They also looked like they were in deep distress.
One poor elephant was just shaking his head up and down at an alarming pace that didn’t stop. It was heartbreaking to see. After I located a handler, I asked some questions about the elephants being chained up.
Apparently, this was to stop the bigger elephants from killing smaller elephants whilst the bull was in heat and they aren’t kept chained up for longer than 6 months. Yes, you read that right… 6 months! I felt totally helpless.
Now, personally, I don’t think this is an excuse. Nature is nature and the only reason these elephants were chained was that they were placed in unnatural habitats which would cause them to act that way.
I’ve heard many people use the excuse that these elephants are chained to protect others elephants but I just feel that isn’t right. In fact, it’s cruel.
As you can imagine, both of us wanted to leave as soon as we arrived, so we headed to Pinnawala riverfront to wait for our driver to come back to pick us up and grab something to eat before leaving.
Apparently, this riverfront is right next to where the elephants bathe in the river (which has become increasingly popular to see in Sri Lanka).
To my horror, I saw the handlers bring down some of the elephants and actually chain them in the middle of the river. Underneath a thin layer of water was a mountain of chains holding a vast proportion of the elephants in place.
They literally couldn’t move. Several were even forced to lie down in the water and would be threatened and hit once they tried to stand up. This was all done before most of the visitors arrived and only occasionally could you see glimpses of the chains underwater.
If I’m honest, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is more of a battery farm for Elephants. The ones I saw were heavily distressed, chained and it just seemed like a money-making tool for the handlers to slip some extra money into their pocket.
Sri Lanka is an incredibly beautiful country (and one I can’t wait to visit again) but I sure as heck will find out a little more information before a local guide takes me somewhere he thinks I will like.
Hidden behind those glossy Instagram shots of the elephants in Pinnawala River is a pretty dark culture of economic greed, cruelty and animal abuse. Think twice before visiting or liking an Instagram picture of this awful place, but most of all – do your research (from the likes of the Born Free Foundation) ❤
If you really want to see elephants when you’re here, you’re better off going to places like Minneriya National Park, Udawalawe National Park and Yale National Park where the elephants roam and are left to go about their business as usual. If you’re lucky you’ll see a couple here, if you’re really lucky you’ll see tens (or even hundred apparently).
Whatever the case is, it’s so much better to see just two elephants which are truly wild and free than it is to be guaranteed to see hundreds chained and tortured.