Why Elephants in Sri Lanka Should Not be visited in Pinnawala

Why Elephants in Sri Lanka Should Not be visited in Pinnawala

Sri Lanka has a great population of elephants. Just before our visit, we were told to admire the elephants in Sri Lanka. Either in one of the National parks or Pinnawala. We decided to do both without doing any research.

Quick jump to:

  1. Where to visit elephants in Sri Lanka?
  2. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage ?
  3. Udawalawe National Park ?
  4. Places to see elephants in Sri Lanka ?

Visit elephants in Sri Lanka

Elephants are not build to give a tour while you are on its back, you can’t cuddle with tigers and a whale shark shouldn’t be fed to use them as a tourist attraction. We know these animal attraction are a hot topic right now. And different people have a lot of different opinions. These are the options you’ll have when you would like to visit elephants in Sri Lanka.

This photo of doyoutravel is the one that made us visit Pinnawala. Don’t get us wrong, we really love the travels of doyoutravel and gypsealust but we hate that Pinnawala is getting the promotion they don’t deserve.

Please let us show you the real Pinnawala… 

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

It’s a 2-hour drive from Colombo to reach Pinnawala. We stayed at a hotel what was near the river. This was the first strange thing we’ve noticed. The owner told us that the elephants would pass every morning. So we woke up early to make sure we won’t miss them.

elephants in sri lanka pinnawala chain

Then they came, in a whole different way than we had expected. Local people walked the elephants out of town, chained, into the river. Attaching them to rings on the rocks in the river. Hidden under the water surface so it won’t really get on photos. But we had a low tide that day. Nick shot some videos and placed them on our Instagram stories but we’ve lost the originals. ?

Elephant riding in Pinnawala

Those same people are going to wash the elephants. We’re not elephant experts but it looked like a group of scared elephants. They’re being hit with sticks and getting the full human weight hanging on their ears to get them kneel into the water.

elephants in sri lanka pinnawala

After seeing a few of these moments we left. We like to stop this kind of money making businesses. But where will these elephants than go? We visited an elephant sanctuary in Thailand before and they acted completely different compared to the elephants in Pinnawala.

Take a look at this video again

Udawalawe National Park

A week later we got up 4:00 AM and drove from Ella to Udawalawe. We had to be there at 6:00 AM, sunrise time! We bought our entrance ticket, while the jeep started his engines.

How to get from Ella to Udawalawe National Park

We only found one (not so cheap) option, get to the main street the night before leaving. Find some people that also would like to visit Udawalawe and split the costs of a van.

elephants in sri lanka visit udawalawe national park monkey

The park itself was beautiful. We’ve seen parrots, deer, buffalos, monkeys and after driving for an hour we finally found two near the road. Elephants! They were curious but shy. The moment he would like to touch the car, the driver drove a few meter further. It was beautiful to see that these animals actually could live in the wild and not being used and fed.

elephants in sri lanka visit udawalawe national park safari go pro
elephants in sri lanka visit udawalawe national park safari

We were a bit unlucky that day because the groups of Elephants weren’t near the road that day. But it was a beautiful experience. Which made us a little bit more happy about the elephants in Sri Lanka.

Must read: 7 awesome things to do in Ella, Sri Lanka

Places to see elephants in Sri Lanka

Eventually, we were happy we had both experiences but it hurt that Pinnawala is such an attraction. What we don’t know is, where do these elephants go if these orphanages weren’t there… do you? Please, make a good decision on which kind of businesses you would like to support.

  1. Yala National Park
  2. Minneriya National Park
  3. Kaudulla National Park
  4. Udawalawe National Park

Go to a national park or take care of the elephants like we did back in Thailand. Christian LeBlanc made a really good YouTube series about Elephants in Thailand.

Help to stop this and share it with your friends or leave your experience in the comments down below.

elephants in sri lanka visit udawalawe national park buffalo
Nil Diya Mankada Safari Resort
Nil Diya Mankada Safari Resort

A cool Safari Lodge 9 km from Udawalawe National Park. Starting at $60

Happy Elephant Resort Udawalawe
Happy Elephant Resort Udawalawe

A backpacker price stay near the national park. From $11 a night

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16/04/2017 https://saltinourhair.com/sri-lanka/elephants-sri-lanka/
Blog comments (18)
  • Why are people so mean!! To be fair I think a lot of the people who ride elephants/bathe elephants who aren’t happy aren’t even mean, they’re just uninformed which is why it’s so important you guys wrote this post – spread the word!!!

  • You have missed the trick that these elephants are partly or disabled elephants. They need special needs and care and they can’t free to wild. Anyone have freedom to make a point. Sri Lanka is a 3rd world developing country and they have limited resources. I agree it need improvements but I think they help these animals as they can. You cannot compare the things just by spending a day there. There are lot of foreign volunteers work for them and I suggest you do that sort of work and see how you feel and how they treat for these disable elephants. Otherwise your reasons are not reasonable.

    • As good as the intentions of Pinnawala are, we cannot condone the riding for tourists. It’s unnecessary. Also, the chains on all their feet, as seen in the Instagram video in the article is too much. We’ve been to several animal conservations but this one was really really bad. Hope you get the chance to see this one day.

  • We’ve experienced similar places on our travels. We absolutely flat out disagree with any form of elephant rides, or other activities where animals are used as attractions. Animals deserve to be in the wild and seeing elephants in their natural habitat, where you suggested, is a much better experience!

    Great post guys.

  • Great post! After a lot of hype around Pinnawala, I’m happy to see someone else reacting to the treatment of the animals there. I thought it was just me for a moment.

    Love your blog ;)

  • Oh no! I saw Pinnawala indeed on gypsealust and other travel accounts and I really wanted to visit… not after reading this.

    Thanks for sharing and also for the tips on which places to visit instead.

  • Truly breaks my heart. This has gotta stop! I love elephants and always wanted to ride them, but now that I’ve learned how they’re treated and what must be done to make them “ride-able,” I could never do it. They have a park with elephant riding in Koh Samui, Thailand, too and it was really hard to watch these poor animals be treated like a carnival ride, especially considering how wise they are and what a great memory they have. So sad!

  • How did you guys get to Udawalawe National Park from Ella? Hired a jeep? Train? Bus?
    And inside the national park? how does it work?
    Any little help would be much appreciated :)

    • Hi! We took a minivan from Ella. The owner of our guesthouse helped us out. Inside the park you need to rent a 4×4 and a driver to get around. I think you should arrange this in advance or at least a few days ahead.

  • Samantha Elisabeth

    This came up somewhere on Facebook randomly, and I’m so glad you guys wrote it! Of course the reviews on Google, etc are pretty glowing because most people just don’t get the ethics of animal, especially elephant, tourism. This makes me SO mad that they’re treated this way (especially the riding… that’s an easy NO), and I feel like I’m constantly disappointed by much bigger influencers who don’t seem to do thorough research on these places before promoting them. I don’t even mind if they don’t know and then later learn (I mean how many of us really knew the Bahama pigs situation was not as rosy as it seemed?), but why not throw a little update or sorry I screwed up to let your readers/followers know you’ve learned differently?

    Anyhow thanks for writing this and shedding some more light into the situation!

  • Historically in Sri Lanka, the Elephant + Locals relationship was very respectable and people used to treat them as a king of the jungle / very wise animal . In fact locals are under the impression that wild elephants ,specially wild Taskers can understand what people saying to them.
    In the Ancient Sri Lanka , Elephant were been used only by kings and ministers . There were no evidence been found in Elephant hunting in Sri Lankan ancient history till the colonial period in 17th / 18th Centuries. During the British Invasion in Sri Lanka ,Planters like Samuel Baker used to kill thousands of Eelepahants ,just for fun.

    In 1975, Sri Lanka Tourism originated the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage as part of government’s Elephant conservation projects. This was not a tourism project or creating a tourism attraction. This is purely to give a new life to the Elephants who were been injured in the Jungle and take care of baby elephants abandonment by parents. Theses , elephants are purely unable to survive in the Jungle . Since, in Sri Lankan Culture there is respect for these animals (there are the ones who carry holly tooth relic of lord Buddha ), government came up with the idea of protecting these animals under the 100% human protection.
    But, not to forget these are untamed elephants were been treated in a certain controlled environment only. It is not circus.
    Some Elephants were been chain -mainly the male elephants due to the aggressive nature of these elephants and protection of same Elephants, other Elephants and humans who are there to feed them and protect them.
    Nevertheless, yes as a developing country undertaking such animal welfare project within a limited funds , there will be raising issues. But the concept was build with holy intention and to date saving lives of hundreds of abandoned / injured elephants.

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