Monday, June 24, 2013

Sri Lanka: The Elephant Orphanage - Part I

Our next stop was the highlight of the trip - the Elephant Orphanage. Elephants are considered sacred by Sri Lankans and are a protected animal. The orphanage cares for injured elephants - sometimes by land mines left over from some of the wars, sometimes from falling into wells and sometimes for illnesses or abandonment.

We were told that elephants form closed groups or tribes and are not open to new membership so once an elephant is taken to the orphanage, that's where he or she stays as they can't be introduced back into and existing elephant group. Our guide did say that they start to form new tribes within the orphanage and build family units as well so occasionally a whole group from the orphanage can be released back into the wild together, but that's pretty rare.

Our first stop was the feeding station.
 These two little cuties were apparently rescued after falling into a well. They are now good buddies and hang out together in the same cage but still separate from the others until they get more acclimated to the place.
 They eat the leaves of the trees and as you can see below also the bark.

 And of course, milk (they are both still less than 1 year old). You could pay a fee to feed the elephants yourself, but all the tickets were sold when we arrived. Our guide tried to get something organized under the table, but "the bosses" were watching so he couldn't make it happen.
 Across the road a bit, there was another station to feed the large (and I mean huge) elephants some fruits. Here's Brian getting up close and personal.
Here Brian is feeding him one banana at a time. When the caretakers did it, they gave the elephants an entire bunch of bananas at once and they threw the whole lot in their mouths. The downside of this adventure is that Brian was now covered in elephant spit so we went off to the hand washing station  that was set up nearby specifically for this purpose.

Next we headed a little further in to the reserve to watch the elephants hanging out. It's a large area for them to roam full of trees, rocks and hills - pretty nice set up. Occasionally, we would see one tied up to a post and were told that these are the elephants that had either recently arrived so weren't ready for company yet or had proven too aggressive to be let free to roam on their own.

 Twice a day, the elephants are taken down to the river to bathe. This was to be the next part of the adventure. As they get ready to lead them to the river, a whistle blows and the elephants start gathering for the 1/4 mile or so walk to the river.
 Elephants on parade!
This guy seems to have decided to take a little picnic lunch along with him.

We followed the herd and I'll tell you about the river in Part II.

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