In recent visits to the Pinnewala Elephant ‘Orphanage’ the Born Free Sri Lanka team has uncovered some very worrying treatment of elephants in their care.
However, it is not just unfortunate cases like this that are a cause for concern. The facility provides local and international tourists with opportunities to get a close-up view and even a chance to interact with the elephants. This may seem harmless in a country where captive elephants are a regular sight in temples, religious pageants and for elephant back rides. However, even in the apparently benign environment at Pinnewala the regular approaches from tourists do have an impact on the animals, and in some cases may pose a risk to visitors.
In order to illustrate these concerns the Born Free Sri Lanka team has made a short video using footage and photos taken at Pinnewala during the course of this year. These show that even the rules set out by the facility itself – such as keepers not taking tips from tourists – are not reliably enforced. It also highlights issues such as elephants posing for photo opportunities under duress, and mothers with infants being surrounded and touched by visitors. These scenes fuel concerns that practices at this so-called orphanage, where more than 40 elephants have been born in the last 10 years, none of which have been returned to the wild - favour the convenience of the tourists and staff over that of the animals they are supposed to be caring for.