Sri Lanka, Elephant Experience in an elephant orphanage

Company : Budget Volunteering
Activities: Animal Volunteer Projects / Conservation Volunteer Projects
Location : Kegalle, Sri Lanka
Duration: 1 week to 4 weeks
Approx Costs: 500 to 1500 £ Pound (UK)

The Elephant Orphanage is a sanctuary for over 80 retired, abused or orphaned elephants. Visitors from all over the world come to see these magnificent animals. At times, there are also some small babies who have been born into the herd.


You'll have about 3 to 4 hours manual work each day at the Orphanage, which is hot and dirty work, mainly,mucking out huge Carport type sheds where Elephants stay at night. You'll also get to wash and hose down several Elephants. In the late morning or afternoon, you'll usually go down to the river and spend about 3 hours amongst the Elephants. You can watch them relaxing, play with them and sometimes help to bathe them.

A couple of little tips from a previous participant for anyone wishing to do this extraordinary project...

"1) When washing an elephant that is lying down in the water, watch out for their trunk as they like to tickle your feet when you're not looking!

2) When sitting at the river edge: My favourite Elephant, Saboo, is very loveable and likes to stand with you. She loves to be tickled and stroked. Make sure you tickle the roof of her mouth - she LOVES this!

You will see some amazing sights here as Elephants really are clever and each have amazing characters and traits. A few funny things I saw were an elephant trying his best to balance a log on this head, the little ones play fighting by nudging each other off the rocks they were trying to balance on, the little ones also playfully charging at one another, the females chasing a very handsome looking male elephant, not to mention the sight of them all putting their trunks in the air and rumbling, trumpeting and even squeaking!

I would also like to add how amazing the Sri Lankan staff are that lived with us in the house, nothing was too much. They helped us plan our weekend trips, cooked us amazing traditional Sri Lankan food and generally took care of us the whole time. I feel truly blessed to of lived with them and the other fantastic volunteers that I shared the experience with." Sarah Ellie

This can be a life-changing experience, as the Elephants are very family orientated and the young ones love fun.If you love animals and don't mind some hard work for some wonderful memories, we highly recommend this project.

Working hours are quite short and you certainly won't be overloaded with work, so you'll have plenty of time to sightsee and explore.  Some elephants are overly large or have not been tamed or trained to a satisfactory level, whereby it is possible to safely have full hands-on contact. 

The majority of volunteer work deals more with the day-to-day aspects of running the orphanage, rather than more specialised research or veterinary based work, although you will have the opportunity to do some hands-on work

Your main duties will be:

  • Mucking out the elephant enclosures in the morning (this is hard, muddy work!)
  • Participating in bathing some of the smaller elephants.
  • While the mahouts are bathing the larger elephants, you will be able to relax by the river, chat to the mahouts and watch the elephants play and interact with humans and each other. This is an absolutely beautiful sight and being around these serene animals in such a beautiful setting can have a very calming effect!
  • You'll also have up to two opportunities per week to feed the beautiful baby elephants

There may also be the opportunity to do other things around the orphanage, however this is subject the amount of work available at the orphanage at the time of your project

Elephants are orphaned for a number of reasons. Habitat destruction and fragmentation is one of the main causes resulting from irrigation projects, development of industries, agricultural projects and human encroachment. Elephants have lost over 30% of their natural wild habitat.

Other reasons for elephants becoming orphaned include hunting for tusks (although there is little of this in Sri Lanka compared to other countries around the globe), humans catching wild elephants for taming and domesticating and lastly due to the Human - Elephant conflict, which is rife in Sri Lanka. This occurs when elephants encroach on farm land to find food. The result is that 150-200 elephants are killed a year and around 60 people die.


You will live in a lovely house in the nearby town of Kegalle. The house is typical of the Sri Lankan style and is very 'homely' with five bedrooms, two bathrooms a regal entrance hallway and a brilliant large dining room and living area to socialise in. You will have all necessary facilities such as a washing machine and a TV and DVD player (Sri Lanka is a great place to buy DVD’s, costing about a pound to buy in the cities of Colombo and Kandy). There is cold water only in the house, but with the year round heat in Sri Lanka this has only ever been looked upon as a blessing by our participants!

Food and Transport
A live-in chef will cook all your meals for you and our current volunteers agree with us that the food is delicious!! Transport will be provided for the 25-30-minute journey to and from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

You will be met at Colombo airport by our Sri Lanka Manager, Roshan, and will be taken, usually by car, to Kegalle. You will have the same high level of support provided in all our programmes.

There are internet facilities in Kegalle during the day. There is also a phone in the house that your family and friends can call you on. With a phone card that you can buy locally, you can make international calls home. 

Start Dates

All year round - flexible start dates

Costs / Benefits

Costs vary depending on length of placement, but starts at £695 for one week.
Included is full support from the moment of booking and throughout your placement to your return home. There are support staff 24/7 in all our destinations worldwide and a 24 hour emergency international telephone line direct to the Head Office. All meals are provided, unless otherwise stated. Accommodation is provided (whether a rented house, a hotel/hostel, homestay, apartment or flat).
You’ll be met at the nearest airport on your arrival by our in-country manager who will take you to your accommodation and give you a full induction into the area. He/she will also be on call 24/7 and you’ll see them frequently.
Pre-departure you’ll receive an information pack about your placement and necessary preparations, ranging from what to pack, to what to do on your weekend travel in the country. Your safety, well being and happiness throughout your placement are our primary concerns and we will keep in touch with you throughout. International flights not included.


No qualifications or previous experience are necessary, just a good dose of enthusiasm! Everyone is welcome on a BVOL programme, whether gap year, undergraduate, on a career break - or even retired! From 17 years old upwards, and all nationalities. This placement would suit anyone who wants to make a real difference, wants first-hand experience of a different culture and has initiative.

Booking / Enquiry

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