Pinnawela elephant orphanage has existed since 1975 and has grown to become one of the most popular attractions of Sri Lanka.
Before the arrival of the British in 1815 an estimated 30,000 elephants lived on the island. In the 1960s, the elephant population was close to extinction. This prompted the Sri Lankan government to found an orphanage for elephants that had lost their mothers or herds. Today, their number is around 3,000.
Pinnawela, about 80 km northeast of Colombo, is regarded as the biggest herd of captive elephants in the world. Among the elephants is one that lost a foot when it stepped on a mine. Another is blind and is totally reliant on humans. The elephant herd in Pinnawela makes the journey to the river twice a day to bathe under the eyes of the tourists. For a few Sri Lankan rupees they are allowed to touch the animals. The sound of cameras clicking increases everytime one of the young elephant babies splashes about in the water. But anyone who wants to take a picture of the babies feeding in the orphanage has to pay extra for the privilege.
Some 110 people are employed to care for the herd feeding them with leaves from palm trees. About 14,000 kg of food are needed every day. The Pinnawela elephant orphanage is financed by the government and by charging visitors to see the animals.