Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka

Pinnawala elephant orphanage

Local name පින්නවල අලි අනාථාගාරය

Owner1975-1978 : Department of Wildlife
1984-2020: National Zoological Gardens
2020: Sri Lanka Ministry of Tourism
Size24 acres
Total nrs65
First elephant arrived1975
Number of animals65
Address Rambukkana Road
Place Kegalle
District Kegalle District
Province Sabaragamuwa Province
Country Sri Lanka

Directors 1978-1985: Lyn de Alwis (director)
1985: Bradley Fernando (director)
H.A.N.T. Perera
Duminda Jayaratne
Renuka Bandaranayaka
Bashwara Senanka Gunarathne
?-2021: Ishini Wickremesinghe

Key People

Veterinarians: Chandana Rajapaksa (head veterinarian)

Elephant department

Head keepers
of elephants
1981-2008: K. G. Sumanabanda
(chief mahout)

Elephant keepers -: R. Gunaratne
-: S. Jayaratna
-: I. Mitreepala
-: H. Somaratna
Record history
History of updates2024-03-23:

Latest document update2024-03-23 10:33:04
Google map
Relevant literature
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Pinnawala elephant orphanage, located at Rambukkana Road, in Kegalle, Sri Lanka , was founded in 1975 and the first elephant arrived in 1975.

Living elephants

At the Pinnawala elephant orphanage lives 70 elephants with records in this database: (detail list)
  1. Amali born 1994-04-16
  2. Anuradhika born 1993-11-15
  3. Anusha
  4. Ashokamala born 1998-08-07
  5. Bharathi born 2007
  6. Binuki born 2011
  7. Buwaneka born 1999-12-07
  8. Charaka born 2006-00-00
  9. Dinuda born 2009-05-24
  10. Diula
  11. Elvina born 2011
  12. Haritha
  13. Isira born 2011
  14. Jadura born 1966?
  15. Jayathu
  16. Kadol born 2011
  17. Kamani
  18. Kanaka born 2009-05-24
  19. Kandula III (Bibile)
  20. Kiriya III (Kira)
  21. Komali (Komalee) born 1971
  22. Kora Aliya
  23. Kumari born 1965
  24. Mahaweli (Mahavali) born 1981
  25. Mathali (Mathalee) born 1970
  26. Mayuri born 1983
  27. Meega
  28. Meena
  29. Menika born 1989-08-14
  30. Menika II
  31. Nandi born 2011
  32. Nandimithra born 1995-09-27
  33. Neela born 1964
  34. Nikini II
  35. Ninja born 1985
  36. Noni
  37. Pali born 2003
  38. Pandu born 2005-08-00
  39. Punchi
  40. Ramiya
  41. Randivi
  42. Rangiri born 1989-08-16
  43. Rejina born 1982
  44. Sama
  45. Sama I born 1987-12-18
  46. Sampath
  47. Sandalee (Sandali)
  48. Sapumali born 1997
  49. Shanthi
  50. Shermi
  51. Sukumali born 1984-07-05
  52. Surangie
  53. Suranimala
  54. Thammenna
  55. Thilaka
  56. Thilamalai
  57. unknown born 2011
  58. unknown born 2011
  59. unknown born 2011
  60. unknown born 2010
  61. unknown born 2011
  62. unknown
  63. Unnamed born 2011-07-16
  64. Unnamed born 2011-02-17
  65. unnamed born 2021-09-11
  66. Unnamed born 2024-03-20
  67. unnamed (twin) born 2021-08-31
  68. unnamed (twin) born 2021-08-31
  69. Uthpala born 1999-08-06
  70. Wasamba born 1999-02-09

Comments / picturesPinnawela orphanage is situated in Rambukkana, northwest of the town Kegalla, halfways between the present capitol Colombo and the ancient royal residence Kandy in the hills of central Sri Lanka. It was established 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife department. This 24 acres large elephant orphanage is a also breeding pace for elephants, the first elephant baby was born in 1984, and until the nineties it had the greatest Herd of elephants in captivity in the world. Between 1975 and 2012, 67 animals were born here.


The orphanage was primarily designed to afford care and protection to the many baby elephants found in the jungle without their mothers. In most of these cases the mother had either died or been killed. In some instances the baby had fallen into a pit and in others the mother had fallen in and died. Initially this orphanage was at the Wilpattu National Park, then shifted to the tourist complex at Bentota and then to the Sri Lanka National Zoological Gardens (Dehivela Zoo).

From the Dehiwala Zoo it was shifted 1975 to Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage which was started in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife on a twenty five acre coconut property on the Maha Oya river at Rambukkana. At the time it was shifted the orphanage had five baby elephants which formed its nucleus. The 5 orphans were transferred to Pinnawela was: Vijaya from Anuradhupura, Kadira from Hambantota, Mathalie from Mathalie road, Komali from Hambantota, Jandura from Puttalama, and Raja from Anamadue, who died from food poisoning. Kumari came later from Molagoda elephant village in Kegalle.

The Mahouts were Karunee and Karunadase and Burampi, Samuranajake, Veerasene, and Hendrick. Curators was Somasiri and Rambanda. Silaratne was assistant curator. Directors were Lyn de Alwis and W. Fernando.

During this time, there was only one hotel in the forest, called Laknivisa.

In 1978 the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was taken over by the Sri Lanka National Zoological Gardens (Dehivela Zoo), and its director Lyn de Alwis from the Department of Wildlife.

In 1981 K. G. Sumunabanda started to work in the Pinnawela elephant orphanage where he, together with two assistants, became responsible for their 13 elephants.

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+LankaIn October 1981 was about three months; Mahaweli Mahout K. G. Sumanabanda, Mahaweli about three months old, visited by family English, in October 1981.

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+Lanka

(Photo from the book les animaux sauvages ; l'éléphant) The Pinnawela Herd and chief Mahout K.G. Sumanabanda in 1981. Not one single hotel can be seen, and only palm trees along the river. The elephants on the picture are 13; Vijaya, Neela, Hema, Mathalee, Randivi, Mahaweli, Kumari, Diula, Anuscha, Kadira, Komali, Weera (later Kandula I at the army camp), and Jadura.

When the zoo took over there were twelve animals five of whom were babies. In time more baby elephants were added to the original Herd of five. It was observed that though older females could be added it was not possible to add older males to the Herd, but a captive breeding program was launched in 1982.

1997 there were 52 animals of which there 10 were babies under 3 years of age. There were five mahouts for the twelve elephants when the orphanage was taken over 1978 and later there were twenty mahouts.

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+Lanka
Stables close to the road and the office: 1. Milkshed, where visitors can milk feed elephant babies. 2 (roofed) and 3 ar round chaining grounds. 4. stable for the blind elephant Raja. 5, 6 and 7 are stables for mixed groups. 8. for Adult dangerous bulls. north of the trail leading to 6 are chaining points for bulls in Musth.

The difference between the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala and Ath Athuru Sevena Transit Home at Uda Walawe is that at the Transit Home these baby elephants once cared for are released to the wilds when they reach a certain age.
  • 1975: 5 baby elephants
  • 1978: 12 elephants, of those 5 babies.
  • 1997: 56 elephants
  • 1998: 63 elephants.
  • 2000: 70 elephants.
  • 2003: 65 elephants.
  • 2010: 84 elephants.
  • 2011: 96 elephants, including 43 males and 68 females from 3 generations, living in Pinnawala. 15 births in 2011-
  • 2021: 81 elephants 4th of September 2021.

Daily activities

At Pinnawela an attempt was made to simulate, in a limited way, the conditions in the wild.
Animals are allowed to roam freely during the day and a Herd structure allowed to form.

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+Lanka

08.00 The babies are fed on milk in the mornings and allowed to range freely on the 12 acres large grassland.

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+Lanka

10.00 Each morning 10.00 and afternoon 14.00 the animals are walked 400 meters to the river Maha Oya for a two-hour bath. Photo © Guillaume Rebis

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+Lanka

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+Lanka

Beteween 16.30 and 1800 in the evening the animals are taken to their stalls and tethered for the night.

They are then given their evening feed which is milk again for the babies and leaves for the older ones. Plenty of food and water is available.

The leaves are mainy Cocunut leaves (Cocos nucifera), but also branches from Jackfruit
(Artocarpus integra), leaves, branches and logs of Kitul palm tree (Caryoty urens),
from There is no stress or threat to the animals.

Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka Sri+Lanka
The elephants are stall fed. There is very little food material that they can gather from the premises of the orphanage except grass. Large quantities of food are brought in daily. Jackfruit, coconut, kitul, tamarind and grass form the bulk of the food given to the elephants at Pinnawela.

Each animal gets approximately 75 kg of green matter a day and in addition each gets 2kg of a food mixture containing maize, rice bran, powdered gingelly seed and minerals. They have access to water twice a day from the river Maha Oya that runs by the Orphanage.

There is one female named Sama which was brought in from the northern part of the country, where there is an ethnic conflict, with the lower part off ts front foot blown off by a land mine. This animal is growing up and is coping with that leg about six inches shorter than the other.

Breeding history

The conditions at Pinnawela are conducive to breeding.
Initially the breeding animals consisted of males Vijaya and Neela and females Kumari, Anusha, Mathalie and Komali. Upto the middle of 1998 there have been fourteen births, eight males and six females at Pinnawela, with one(1) second generation birth early 1998.

The father of the first three calves born at Pinnawela was Vijaya. It was not possible to determine the father of the next calves since many males used to mate with the females in oestrus. Now through DNA fingerprinting the fathers of three have definitely been identified.
Vijaya and Kumari have produced three calves at intervals of five and four years.

The first birth at Pinnawela was in 1984, a female, to Vijaya and Kumari who were aged 21 and 20 years respectively at the time of the birth. In 1993 Vijaya and Kumari were 30 and 29 years respectively.

There are other records of the birth of elephants in captivity in Sri Lanka but most of these are off females that had been captured after they had conceived in the wild. There are also records of tamed elephants having mated with other tamed elephants and giving birth. These are however few and far between.

The other elephant deaths in recent times are as follows with the relevant date and cause of death: Vijaya - September 11, 1999, brain Cancer, Honda Kota - February 20, 1999, severe injuries to the Trunk and body at the time it was handed over by the Wildlife Department, Binari - January 3, 2003, head injury and paralysis, baby elephant born to Lasanda - March 20, 2004 dashed on the ground by the mother and baby elephant of Nikini - April 22, 2004, born dead.

In 2012, 15 babies were named: Singithi, Ahinsa, Themiya, Wanamali, Nandi, Mangala, Annuththara, Jeevaka, Kadol, Isira, Bimuthi, Aithi, Gagana and foreign favourites Trinky and Elvina. Of those, thirteen babies were born 2011 and the other two in 2010.

2021-08-31: female Surangie gave birth to two male twins.


In 1997 and 1998 Research was conducted in Pinnawela through a joint venture by Institute of Wildbiology at Vienna University in Austria and the Zoological Institutes of Colombo and Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, under the supervision of Dr. Fred Kurt. Veterinary students from the Universities collected datas about body messurements and growth, food assimilation, social interactions, sleeping behaviour, tool-using, and sterotypical behaviours, later publicated in different scientific medias.


(Asst. Curator)
Elephant Orphanage
Sri Lanka

Mahout´s Names

K.G. Sumanabanda, Senior Security Officer, (fourth generation Mahout, started in Pinnawela in 1984.)
S.D. Jayaratna
H.A. Somaratna
R.W.A. Gunaratne
I.S. Mitreepala

Information provided by Jayantha Jayewardene, Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust, 615/32 Rajagiriya Gardens, Nawala Road, Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka, Dr. Fred Kurt, Institute of Wild Biology at Vienna Veterinary University, and Wayne Jackson, Canada.

Here in Pinnawela is also the three-legged elephant Sama, who by two years of age stepped on a landmine which blew her right frotfoot away. Since then she is walking on three legs. She is now twelve and will suffer from considerable discomfort in the future due to changes in her spina, because of her unnatural body position, trying to balance the body weight on three legs.

There were earlier ambitions to train her for a specially made Prosthetic, see for more information.

References for records about Pinnawala elephant orphanage

Recommended Citation

Koehl, Dan (2024). Pinnawala elephant orphanage, Elephant Encyclopedia. Available online at (archived at the Wayback machine)

Sources used for this article is among others:

Pinnawala elephant orphanage on

Pinnawala elephant orphanage is mentioned on Elephant News:

DateLinks which opens in new window
2020-09-07Responding to decision to move dep. of zoological gardens under ministry of tourism - Elephant News
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2020-09-26Pinnawala elephant orphanage runs risk of being blacklisted: minister - Elephant News
Pinnawala orphanage sees birth of 76th calf - Elephant News

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