Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


Please help us to encourage the President of Sri Lanka to ensure that two baby elephants, separated from their mothers whilst still suckling, should be reunited with them.


The two babies, named Sindu and Raju, were born at the Pinnewala Elephant ‘Orphanage’ in Sri Lanka. This facility, run by the national zoo, cares for over  80 elephants, some rescued from the wild (either after injury or, in the past, when babies were separated from their mothers) and some born at the site. Sometimes individuals are transferred out of the facility to the zoo, to temples or other private owners, and even to overseas zoos. While Born Free disagrees with the keeping of elephants at such facilities, we recognise that Pinnewala still follows some basic principles - one of the most fundamental is that no elephant born at Pinnewala is separated from its mother before it is five years old. These first five years are a period of intense physical and emotional dependency, and many experts have described ways in which separation at this stage could have a serious negative effect on development, from bone growth to social behaviour.

However, on Saturday 25th July two babies under the age of three were taken from Pinnewala to the country’s most prestigious Buddhist temple, the Temple of the Tooth (or Dalada Maligawa in local Sinhalese) in the cultural capital of Kandy. These babies had been chosen because it had been noticed that they were starting to grow tusks. Female Asian elephants do not have tusks, and in Sri Lanka itself only 7% or less of males are ‘tuskers’. These animals are especially prized for temples and for religious processions (Peraheras), and are in very high demand, so clearly when these two were spotted the Dalada Maligawa wanted to claim them to add to its captive herd. The transfer had been requested by the senior manager of the temple (the Diyawadana Nilame), Pradeep Nilanga Dela Bandara, and was apparently approved at cabinet level.

Immediately the outcries began in the Sri Lankan press from a wide range of groups and individuals – animal welfare advocates, conservationists, veterinarian and even some Buddhist groups (,8430,0,0,1,0) who felt that this contravened the sacred teachings on respect for animals and preventing suffering. No public access to the animals were permitted, although a few photos were taken from a distance, and there were accusations that the handlers at the temple were beating and prodding the animals cruelly whilst one was reported to have broken a tusk ( and Observations of the food they were being provided suggested that it was not nutritionally suitable for animals of this age, and was not appropriately substituting the milk that they were being deprived of. Even if they are fed with infant milk formulae, those with expertise in this have found it very difficult to develop a ‘recipe’ which is suitable and does not lead to complications such as chronic, potentially fatal diarrhoea. Meanwhile, the mother elephants at Pinnewala were showing signs of severe emotional distress and staff had to begin milking them so that they would not stop lactating, in the hope that their babies would be returned. Unfortunately this could not be maintained and our information is that the mothers are no longer producing milk – this means the babies will have to be fed with special milk formula, but they still need the nurturing care and social training of their mothers.

On 6th August there was an official ceremony to present these young animals to the senior priests (or Mahanayakas) of the temple ( It was hoped that these venerable religious figures might allow the babies now in their care to return to their mothers for the rest of their most formative years, but it did not happen. The babies were moved to a rural site and kept away from public access. The only vet permitted to visit them has indicated that they seem to be healthy for now, but in their fragile position this could change at any time, and long term developmental problems may not be detected until it is too late.

A legal case was launched by an animal welfare activist in Sri Lanka to have these babies returned to their mothers, but this has since been abandoned.

In the last few weeks these young elephants seem to have been moved around on several occasions and been housed at different temples across the country. Details of their schedule have not been released, and it is has been difficult to confirm where they are at any time.

Born Free has written twice to the President of Sri Lanka (7th August and 21st September) requesting that he intervene and return the baby tuskers to their mothers at Pinnewala. So far we have received no reply, and we need you to add your voice to these calls coming from inside Sri Lanka as well as overseas.

Important further information

There have been suggestions that the baby elephant could be reunited with their mothers by bringing the mothers to the temple as well. Whilst on one level this might seem to alleviate the problem, in reality it may well compound it. The daily routine and level of training experienced by the female elephants at Pinnewala is much less strict than that practiced at the temple – females lead a herd life at Pinnawala and free roaming is allowed. If transferred they will be tethered and will no longer be able to socialise with a herd. Whilst young animals can, with certain inducements, come to accept such a regime, experiences with training adult animals to this standard have shown little success and tragic consequences (see below). Please be clear that the baby tuskers need to be taken to their mothers at Pinnewala, and not the other way around.

Whilst the keeping of elephants in Buddhist temples is a well established tradition in Sri Lanka and throughout South Asia, having been practiced for over 1,000 years, there are concerns over the standard of care that can be offered. Furthermore, it is not guaranteed that the elephants donated to the temples are kept there, as they may be given away on loan to private owners selected by the respective temples. In our first letter to the President we brought to his attention the case of an 18 year old male elephant called Kapila, who had been observed at the Kandy Perahera. We explained that this individual, gifted by Pinnewala to the Walpola Rajamaha Vihara temple in Ragama in 2003, showed “inadequate growth and signs of a long lasting wasting disease”. Less than a month later, Kapila died, reportedly of malnutrition. Whilst this case does not relate directly to that of Sindu and Raju, you may want to refer to it in the context of elephants being transferred from Pinnewala to temples.

A report also recently surfaced of a case of a wild elephant brought to the Dalada Maligawa itself in 2007 for training. Revealed by a government wildlife vet in a recent book, this unfortunate animal was chained almost continuously for seven months, leading to deep wounds on its legs, before it finally died. Whilst this case, again, does not relate directly to that of Sindu and Raju, you may want to refer to it in the context of elephant welfare at the Dalada Maligawa.

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