Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawela was started in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife on a twenty five acre coconut land overlooking the river Maha Oya at Rambukkana. The orphanage was primarily designed to afford care and protection to the many baby elephants who become orphaned due to various reasons. Having been shifted from place to place, from Wilpattu National Park to Bentota to the Dehiwala Zoo, it was finally established at Pinnawela in1975. As a result the remote village of Pinnawela ended up housing the biggest orphans in the world.
Having started with only five baby elephant orphans, Pinnawela is by far a large orphanage now and is quite well known worldwide. In 1978 the Orphanage was taken over by the National Zoological Gardens and a captive breeding program was launched in 1982. Babies are fed with milk twice a day and older ones with various types of leaves.
Today the Elephant Orphanage or just Pinnawela, as it called, is a popular place for locals and a must for foreign tourists. Visitors – children, young and old alike love to watch the elephant bath in the river Maha Oya that takes place twice a day. It is amazing to see how they play with one another in the water like carefree children. Some of these also have found foster homes in other countries.