We took a tuk tuk tour through our hostel in Kandy today. Our first stop was at an elephant sanctuary to see retired elephants bathe in the river and go about their daily routine. We chose Millennium Elephant Foundation over Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage for its cheaper entrance fee (1,000 rupees- about US$6.50- vs 2,500.)
You can choose to bathe the elephants, feed them fruit, or ride them (all for an extra fee of course) but it’s a giant, touristic waste of time. After entering, you immediately see a polluted, brown creek where the elephants are bathed. Three elephants were lying on their sides, hardly moving at all, while groups of volunteers scraped their skin down with coconut shells. My mom, as an animal science major, found it very strange to see the elephants motionless, and allowing parts of their skin to dry out while lying in the sun. To me as well, having observed South African elephants in the wild, found the situation to be very unnatural.
For everyone’s safety, large chains were kept around the elephants’s necks and feet and the workers always walk beside them with a sharp metal spear. The Millennium Foundation had six elephants in its care during our visit. I was told that the full total of elephants living there was nine, but three had been lent out for religious use during the Buddhist holiday. This place seemed more like a business than a rescue center.
While it’s great that they provide medical care, and offer, in comparison to some of the tough lives the elephants lived before (some working in the lumber industry, etc.), a less stressful life for them, it was still quite sad and dissatisfying to see these elephants spend the rest of their lives in chains. We went to see the one male elephant, who spent his whole day chained up, both at the front and back, so that even small movement was restricted.
Elephants are incredible, intelligent giants. It’s amazing to see them. But we’d prefer to see them in the wild, with their families, running and roaming as they please. As Sri Lanka has 22 national parks to visit and plenty of safari tours to chose from, we think it’s a much better use of your time and money to skip the sanctuaries and see these massive creatures in all their glory. Go natural. Go wild. 🙂
Have you been to an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka? What did you think?
As always, thanks for reading and happy travels. 🙂