paws for thought

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2011, 12:00am


At the end of last month, I continued my exploration of exciting new places, and headed to yet another previous uncharted destination: this time, the amazing island of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was known to the ancient Arabs and Persians as Serendib. This is where the word 'serendipity' comes from - this describes something happy or beneficial that happens by chance. And as soon as you arrive, you realise how fitting that name is: Sri Lanka, its people and places are so beautiful, you'll feel extremely happy to find yourself there.

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage. Sri Lanka elephants are a sub-species of Asian elephant. They are physically the largest of the Asian elephants - even though that means they're lots smaller than African elephants - which can grow up to four metres tall - they still looked pretty massive to me!

The elephant holds a lot of cultural significance in Sri Lanka. They appear in many signs and logos, and are an essential part of many religious ceremonies.

The Pinnawala orphanage was set up in 1975 to take care of the many baby elephants that were found in the jungle without their mothers. Sometimes the mothers have died or been killed, but sadly, some elephant calves, especially if they are sick or injured, are abandoned by their mothers. The people that run the orphanage try to give the elephants a fairly natural environment. These great creatures are free to roam around an enormous plantation and visitors are able to walk right up to them. It's not a good idea to stand too close for too long, though, just in case they decide to go for a run!

There are loads of tourists there every day, and although this may not seem very 'natural', it means the orphanage makes the money it needs to care for its residents. What's more, tourist interaction with the elephants is minimal: you can touch them, but only if a mahout - or elephant driver - is with you.

Twice a day the mahouts walk the elephants across a road, and through a village to bathe in the river. It's incredible to see this herd of about 70 elephants walking in a line, between shops and villagers, then slowly making their way down to the river. They really are amazing animals.