Ever since it opened four decades ago, the refuge has been at the forefront of conservation projects and there are now 17-times more animals in the shelter, where they are fed, bathed and allowed to roam freely.
As you head inland, the climes become cooler, the landscapes more verdant and the countryside hillier. Located in the heart of the Kegalle district at the foot of the central highlands, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was founded in 1975 with just five calves. Over the years, the refuge has grown in size and population and nowadays there are almost 100 of these gentle giants in the centre. On top of all the elephants rescued from the rainforests, there have been dozens of births at the shelter, with the first arriving in 1984.
The central tenet of the orphanage is that the animals are able to roam freely during the day and that a herd structure is allowed to form. Here they lead normal, happy lives. They are fed their breakfasts each morning – milk for the calves, leaves (mainly coconut) for the adults – and then taken to the River Maha Oya for a two-hour bath. Watch the elephants frolicking in water; it is one of the most beautiful sights in nature. Enjoy a traditional lunch in Pinnawala before returning back to Hikkaduwa.