Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala village, 13 km (8.1 mi) northeast of Kegalle town in Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. In 2011, there were 96 elephants, including 43 males and 68 females from 3 generations, living in Pinnawala. The orphanage was founded to care and protect the many orphaned unweaned wild elephants found wandering in and near the forests of Sri Lanka. It was established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation.
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 best time to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is at feeding and bathing times, which happens twice a day at 9AM and 1PM. Feeding commences with the youngest being led to stalls, where they are bottle fed by caring handlers. The older and larger elephants require large quantities of green fodder, and mahouts use selected elephants to help in the mammoth task of carrying palm fronds and green branches to dispense it to the herd.
Following the feeding, the herd is taken in a procession to the river nearby by an army of mahouts for their daily soak. Here the babies gambol in the shallows while the larger animals of the herd venture out towards the middle of the river and the far bank under the watchful eye of the mahouts. The older elephants also get some tender loving care with carers giving them a good scrubbing to ensure their hides remain healthy and parasite free.