Pinnawala Zoo Orphanage for Endangered Elephants

What is the Pinnawala Zoo?

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was originally established to care for abandoned wild baby elephants.

While still referred to as an orphanage, it should more correctly be referred to as an elephant conservatory or an open zoo as the animals there, today, are no longer just orphaned baby elephants but also include those born there and distressed animals brought in for rehabilitation. Two such distressed animals are Sama who was five years old when she lost a leg to a land-mine (during the Sri Lanka civil war) and Pandu who was just one month old when he lost an ear to a leopard attack. The resident population of elephants at Pinnawala, today, is nearly 90 animals; making it the largest conservatory of its kind in the world.

Related: Sri Lankan Elephants - The Gentle Giants

Pinnawala Zoo is an extremely popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka. Over 400,000 people visit each year. The facility gives a visitor a rare opportunity to be up close with these ponderous pachyderms and maybe even touch and feed them. The less adventurous visitor can observe them at a distance, feeding and strolling to their favorite bathing spot in the river.

These are not "wild" elephants. They are tamed. The elephants are in the care of a mahout (elephant handler) who treats them rather firmly and prods them into line with firm commands and a poke with a goad - a sharp metal hook. Some may find this cruel and offensive but keep in mind these are huge and extremely powerful animals which need to be managed so as not to endanger life and property. The elephants seem to be almost oblivious of this prodding and take it in their stride.

Related: Elephant Attacks - They Can Be Dangerous

The best times to visit Pinnawala are when the elephants are being brought through the main street to the river and to watch them bathing in the river (See Elephant Activity Timetable on the right).

History of Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Site Information

Entrance Fees

U$16 - Foreigner Adult
U$8 - Foreigner Child

(Rs50 - locals)

Opening Hours

8:30 AM – 6:00 PM
(Last entry 5:30 PM)

Elephant Activity Timetable

09.15 hours – Bottle feeding

10.00 hours – Herd heads for river

12.00 hours – Herd returns from river

13.15 hours – Bottle feeding

14.00 hours – Herd heads for river

16.00 hours – Hear returns from river

17.00 hours – Bottle feeding


1-3 hours for site tour


Easy stroll
less than 1km from car park


Restaurants by the river
Soft drinks in some shops


Toilets at restaurants near the river

The elephant conservatory know today as the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was established by Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1975 to care and protect abandoned wild baby elephants found in the forests of Sri Lanka. It was originally established with 5 baby elephants at the Wilpattu National Park, then moved to the Bentota tourist complex near Galle, then to the Dehiwela Zoo and finally moved to its present location on the banks of the Maha Oya river in Kegalle in central Sri Lanka. The present facility which occupies an area of 10 ha, sometimes also referred to as the Pinnawala Zoo, is managed by the Department of National Zoological Gardens.


Pinnawala Location Where is Pinnawala Located

Pinnawala is located in central Sri Lanka. The distances to Pinnawala from some key cities is as follows:

  1. Colombo – 108 km (2.5 hours)

    Negambo – 76 km (2 hours)

    Kandy – 42 kilometers (1 hours)

    Sigiriya - 97km (2.25 hours)

Most visitors usually stopover at Pinnawala on their way to and from the cities mentioned above.

Pinnawala Hotels

Hotel accommodations in Pinnawala are limited as most visitors usually make a day trip to the area from Colombo or Kandy. Hotels and guest houses in Pinnawala are predominately 3.5 stars and below. However, as with most Sri Lankan hotels, the service is friendly and the food, especially the local curries, tasty.


Hotel Elephant Park and Hotel Elephant Bay are located overlooking the elephant bathing area on the banks of the Maha Oya river. From this idyllic setting, guests are offered an excellent vantage points from which to watch the elephants bathing in the river. Make sure you book a river view room where you can sit and watch the bathing elephants for free.

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