General description: Sri Lanka has a long and complicated history with elephants, many of whom live in captivity in poor conditions. There are numerous organisations within Sri Lanka who ‘rescue’ captive elephants (privately owned by temples, organizations or individuals) and provide these elephants a retirement home as most of them are old, sick and/or badly injured. Spend a few hours with an elephant expert and animal rights activist who will give you the unique opportunity to meet, walk with, and bathe the elephants they look after at the Millennium Elephant Foundation, an organisation that have been working continually to improve the care, protection and treatment of captive elephants in Sri Lanka by providing a place of sanctuary and medical services and facilities.
Experience description: Meet an authority on Sri Lankan elephants for the morning or afternoon to learn about the real story behind elephant captivity. You will visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation (MEF), an organisation with eight elephants in residence. The foundation pays for all food and medical bills for the elephants and also provide elephants with specialist care, an individual mahout and a supporting team. The elephants do no heavy manual work and are well provided for with food, water, vitamins, regular vet checks and medical treatment and regular exercise. Your host, along with a dedicated team at MEF, are fighting for more rights for their elephants, however, captive elephants still have owners and ultimately these owners get decisions over how the elephants are treated. Most of the elephants at MEF are chained up due to the requests of their owners. The foundation also offers elephant riding. Your host is working with the foundation to try and change this, with the aim to eventually release the elephants from their chains and stop elephant riding all together. They will talk you through the efforts of the foundation, give you an opportunity to walk with the elephants, bathe the elephants, and visit the on-site elephant dung factory. This experience allows you to get up-close-and-personal with the elephants whilst understanding the complex issues that affect their conservation within Sri Lanka.
Captive elephants – what to expect: The chains that some elephants wear are considered to be for safety, both for their own and of the people they interact with as some elephants can be temperamental. Each elephant has a mahout, a caretaker that stays with the elephant throughout the day, and sometimes at night as well. Being a mahout is a dangerous job, all mahouts use a hook that touches some 96 pressure points in the animal’s body to control it – when used correctly, the hook does not hurt the animal. None of the elephants at MEF are used for labor.
About your host: Your host has worked at Millennium Elephant Foundation for years as a volunteer and is extremely knowledgeable about the handling of elephants in captivity.
includes: A guided visit through the center, refreshments. Special experiences like washing the elephants and walking alongside or feeding the elephants are optional and included in the entrance ticket.
Duration: Approx. 1.5-2 hours.
Difficulty: This is easy, fun and great for families.
Suitable for children: Yes. The garden presents a fantastic natural playground and the kids will love being up close with the Elephants
Times: This can be done at any time of day. If you are visiting during lunch, lunch can be provided.
What to wear or bring along: Sunscreen, cap, light cool clothing and insect repellent. Bring a change of dry clothes in case you want to get in the river and bathe the elephants.
Important to know: Alcoholic beverages are not served during the experience. Any dietary restrictions should be mentioned to SLIS in advance. The staff at MEF are experienced and multilingual volunteers, they will be happy to take photographs and videos for you at no extra cost.
Private or not? This experience is always private, that said, there may be other guests at the center interacting with the elephants.