The orphanage,about two hours from the capital of Colombo, takes in (usually) young elephants that are orphaned or injured or abused.
Right now there are 95 elephants housed there, ranging in size from under one meter to giants well over three meters from the tips of their toes to the tops of their heads.
Every day from 10am-noon and from 2-4pm they are herded down to the river by the Mahouts (handlers) for their twice a day bath or frolic in the cooling water.
Bananas are available (for a price) so you can feed the elephants. They are very polite, gently taking the bananas from your hand.
At one point one of the elephants mounted another… how many times does someone get a chance to see elephants 'doing it' up close. (A warning the video is graphic… viewer discretion advised!)
The orphanage has a pretty good success rate for breeding in captivity with several babies born each year. They usually stick close to mom… sometimes hiding under mom’s stomach if another elephant gets too close or they get scared of something.
I had the chance to bathe two of the elephants. I was handed a coconut husk and proceeded to scrub and wash the giant beast. He seemed to be enjoying himself and I had a ball.
The elephant orphanage is just a few hundred meters away from the river and as they returned from the river one of the mahouts introduced me to Sama, a 20 year old elephant that had part of her front right leg blown off by a landmine, and I shot some video of her as she kept up with the others… pretty remarkable to see.
I saw what looked like a shrine and a statue of a giant elephant with long tusks… turned out it was alive, and it was 75 year old Raja, blinded by a spear gun in the jungle about 20 years earlier. He’s massive, and very calm and just stood there as tourists came up, gave him a scratch and took his photo.
Don't miss a visit to the maternity and baby stable. I was lucky enough to see a giant female and her newborn baby (just one day old) as they stood around their stall area, mama chained to the floor and baby wandering back and forth under mother’s belly.
I got to feed one of the babies, I was hoping it would be one of the tiny ones, but it turned out they were 2-3 year old orphans. Apparently they guzzle down dozens of bottles at each feeding.
I met up with a 4 month old baby as I headed for the exit and I couldn’t pass up the chance to get up close to him… a miniature elephant, less than one meter tall so that I towered over him. He was covered in wiry hair which I scratched for him and he nuzzled up close to me.
A couple of elephants that are aggressive and don't play well with others were chained up during their bath but are untethered when they are able to calm down. But there are other areas that are off limits to tourists, like the remote area of the park that is for the 10 elephants deemed dangerous.
I was sad to leave the elephants, but the clouds opened up near the end of the morning bath, and when they all headed toward the opposite river bank to get out of the rain, I hit the road to head back to Colombo, with memories to last a lifetime.