The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is situated northwest of the town of Kegalle, halfway between the present capital Colombo and the ancient royal residence Kandy. It was established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department in a 25 acre coconut property adjoining the Maha Oya River. The orphanage was originally founded in order to afford care and protection to the many orphaned Elephants found in the jungles of Sri Lanka.
In 1978 the orphanage was taken over by the National Zoological Gardens from the Department of Wildlife. A captive breeding program was launched in 1982. Since the inception of the program over 20 elephants have been bred here. The aim of the orphanage is to simulate a natural habitat to these elephants. However, there are some exceptions: the elephants are taken to the river twice a day for a bath, and all the babies less than three years of age are still bottle fed by the mahouts and volunteers.
Each animal is also given around 76 kg of green matter a day and around 2 kg from a food bag containing rice bran and maize. The orphanage which boasts to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world is very popular and visited daily by many Sri Lankan and foreign tourists. The main attraction is clearly to observe the elephants bathing which is quite a spectacle.