Pinnawela orphanage is situated 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, twenty elephants were born since 1984, and it has the greatest herd of elephants in captivity in the world. 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.
The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was started in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife on a twenty five acre coconut property on the Maha Oya river at Rambukkana. 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 Dehiwala Zoo.From the Dehiwala Zoo it was shifted 1975 to Pinnawela. At the time it was shifted the orphanage had five baby elephants which formed its nucleus.It was hoped that this facility would attract both local and foreign visitors, the income from which would help to maintain the orphanage.
There are only a few elephant orphanages in the world. Pinnawela has now become one of the bigger orphanages
and is quite well known world wide.
In 1978 the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage was taken over by the National Zoological Gardens from the Department of Wildlife and a captive breeding program launched in 1982. 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.
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 now there are twenty mahouts. This number is inadequate to manage the increasing and growing number of elephants.