Where: Kegalle, Hill Country, Sri Lanka
Go There For: Bath time with giant beasts
Facts: Many Sri Lankan elephants have no tusks
Where It’s At
One of the most popular attractions in Sri Lanka is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Situated in the Hill Country near Kegalle, it was set up to save abandoned or orphaned wild elephants. They are controlled by their mahouts (keepers), who ensure they are fed at the right times and don’t endanger anyone. Comfortingly however, it is the type of place that if an elephant steps on your foot, you’re likely to walk away with a smile.
If you want to catch the elephants having their daily bath visit from 10am to noon and from 2 to 4 PM. Meal times are at 9:15am, 1.15 and 5pm. Nearly all of the elephants become working elephants once they have grown up. Occasionally, one of the older female elephants produces a baby to add to the herd.
The Asian elephant is a lot smaller then the African elephant with a rounder back and smaller ears. It also has one ‘lip’ rather than two on the tip of its trunk and four rather than three nails on its hind feet. In Sri Lanka, most females and many males are tusk less. Asian elephants congregate in family groups of up to 10 led by an adult female. Males, banished from the family group upon maturity, may form bachelor herds. Elephants retire in the heat of the day to digest the 200kg of vegetable matter which they consume nightly.
The Curse of the Elephant
Major Thomas William Rogers, a former A. G. A. and District Judge of Badulla, was an elephant hunter and is credited with killing one thousand five hundred elephants within the short span of four years. Peasants and especially the farmers during this time (1840’s) were grateful to Rogers as herds of elephants caused major destruction on grain laden fields and the huts of many peasants, causing numerous deaths.
One of the elephants that Major Roger’s killed was from the sacred area of Kataragama. An old patriarch had warned him that he had done wrong in killing this elephant within the sacred boundaries of one of Lanka’s holiest citadels and that he should beware of a tragic death. After taking shelter, when Roger’s stepped outside one thundery night, onlookers suddenly saw a flash of lightning and saw the brave major fall face forwards. On this night, 7th June 1845, Rogers was struck to death by lightening and locals belief it was a curse. Killing a man is a sin but to kill an elephant is like killing seven men. In Nuwara Eliya lies the tomb of Rogers. Tradition had it that lightning struck again on his very tomb, and if you visit now, you may even see the crack where the lightning struck.
Words by Sally Delf