Elephants are one of my favorite animals on earth! In Sri Lanka, we get lots of elephants in the wild and in the captivities as well. Last weekend I had a chance of having an amazing elephant experience at Elephant Freedom Project, Pinnawala. I personally don’t recommend the places where they keep elephants and let people ride them. Simply elephants are not made to carry weights on their back. But, I felt a difference here than all other elephant based tourists places in the Pinnawala area.
What is the story behind the Elephant Freedom Project?
This is a family owned project where they keep rescued elephants from logging and riding industry. In Sri Lanka buying an elephant is not an easy thing. So the EFP has rented this elephant from the owner to give her a better life. I have done my homework before arriving at the place, I have found that most of the other places around Pinnawala do elephant riding and keeping chains on elephants. But here at EFP, their elephants are roaming around the property freely.
Currently, they have one female elephant called “Kumari”. Since she was in captivity from her birth, she can’t manage to be survived in the woods her own. So she needs someone to take care of her and let her live peacefully. I have seen thousands of wild elephants in my life as I worked as a wildlife ranger. But this was a totally different experience for me.
A day in Elephant Freedom Project
We arrived around 8.30AM and the morning session started around 9 AM after a short safety talk and the introduction. Our coordinator was Ruchira who was a talented guy fro the local community. Our first activity was cleaning Kumari’s enclosure. It was full of elephant dung since she has spent previous night in that enclosure. when we were cleaning Kumari was just eating some grass in the other end. And suddenly her mahout came out of wild and called her name and asked her to come in their language. I was so surprised how she came like a baby when he called. They have a very special bond, the mahout was a very small man compared to the Elephant!
After we finished cleaning the enclosure she arrived having grass bites all the way. We walked with her around the property for about an hour. When walking we were advised to walk behind her. She is the leader there, you just have to follow her! Our coordinator was telling us about Kumaris previous life. She has been chained for a long time in the logging industry. Still, you can see the marks on her legs! in EFP they can walk freely and they don’t allow people to ride them. In Sri Lanka, there is a law that all mahouts must carry a bullhook, but they don’t use that to hurt animal at EFP even they have it in hands.
After walking with her, we fed her with some pumpkins! She loved that! In general, elephants eat a lot around 100-300kgs per day. At EFP they get fresh vegetables and coconut leaves every day and spend 80% of the day eating!
Since she wanted to eat more and walk more, we left for the tea break while she was enjoying her snacks. EFP has arranged a visit to the dung factory, where they make papers from dung. It was a good time to see the crafts and buy something as a souvenir.
Washing the elephant! Favorite part of the day!
After the factory visit she has gone to the river, so we followed the leader. She is very gentle stayed still as we scrubbed her with a coconut husk. They get parasites and bugs on the skin, that’s why they keep dust on their back after a shower. Even when she is in the river, there are bugs flying around her. So make sure you get a bug spray. I got a lot of bug bites since I was next to Kumari all the time!
And once we finished scrubbing her, she stood up and started spraying water on her back. She loves that if you keep splashing water on her face on a sunny day!
After washing her it was time to say goodbye to Kumari. She was so gentle and it was sad to leave her! After enjoying her tropical spa, she went back to the enclosure to have her lunch! So we did the same!
End of the session, It was a very unique experience for me! It is obviously different from the other projects around Pinnawala. So if you are coming that way this is a must visit if you really love elephants and wants them to be free. this is a very small place, so they need all possible support and love to grow. As they grow they can save more Ellies from riding and logging!
How to get there?
It’s just 2 km away from Kandy-Colombo main road. We got a tuk from the main road, it was just 120LKR! Since they allow a very limited number of visitors to see Kumari, you have to book a session before the visit. Simply visit their website for all the other information. You will never regret visiting this amazing place!