Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka
If it weren’t already completely and utterly obvious, I am obsessed with elephants. If you are also in love with these gentle giants, you need to visit Sri Lanka ASAP as it has one of the biggest populations of wild Asian elephants in the world. Over the years, measures to protect wildlife (and in particular, elephants) have continued to improve in Sri Lanka, and a number of facilities have been created to ensure the survival and wellbeing of animals. One such facility is the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka. (“Udawalawe” may sound familiar to you as it is home to one of the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka.)
What is the Elephant Transit Home?
As the human population continues to grow in Sri Lanka, humans encroach on elephant natural habitat for farmland, gem mining, timber and even trafficking. Human-elephant conflict is a major threat to the survival of elephants in Sri Lanka, with many elephants being orphaned or lost: this is where Elephant Transit Home comes in. The elephant calves are taken in, nurtured and cared for back to health. The elephants are free to roam around and are never chained – Elephant Transit Home ensures that human contact is kept to a minimum in order to maximize their chance of survival when they are returned to the wild.
What sets Elephant Transit Home apart from other so-called “orphanages” is that elephants are returned to the wild so that they can re-integrate with wild herds once they turn five years old; according to the organization, more than 110 elephants have been returned back to the national parks around Sri Lanka. You can read more about the work Elephant Transit Home does here.
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When should I visit the Elephant Transit Home?
Udawalawe is in a hot, semi-arid environment and the annual average temperature is about 32 degrees Celsius. Every day, Elephant Transit Home is open during feeding time and visitors can quietly observe dozens of baby elephants drink milk and wander around the watering hole. Elephant Transit Home orphans receive milk daily, every 3 hours at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and 6 pm, and the home is open to visitors during these specific times. Many people visit Elephant Transit Home before their afternoon safari in Udawalawe National Park. It is a 10-20 minute drive away from the entrance to the national park.
Avoid visiting during the weekend and during school holidays, as the crowds can be very unbearable, and make sure you arrive 15-20 minutes before feeding time as there is only 1 ticket booth, and so you can make sure you get a good spot on the viewing platform.
The ticket price for entry is 500 LKR for adults and 250 LKR for children (approximately 3 USD and 1.5 USD).
What can I expect from a visit to the Elephant Transit Home?
Dozens and dozens of baby elephants! This was a highlight of my trip to Udawalawe – while you tend to see many fully grown elephants in Udawalawe National Park, you don’t always see many calves. Elephant Transit Home is home to 30-40 baby elephants at any given time, and being able to observe them play with one another is absolutely incredible. Most importantly, as a visitor you are able to see elephants knowing that you are not contributing to abuse and not playing a part in perpetuating constant captivity.
“The primary objective of the Elephant Transit Home is the rehabilitation of orphaned baby elephants and their release back to the wild.” – ETH
The viewing platform is a good 8-10 meters away from the elephants and the facility does not allow any visitors to touch, feed or pose for pictures next to the elephants. If you want to take high quality photos you will need to bring a zoom lens – that’s how far away they are!
After feeding time, you can walk through the educational center to learn more about the Asian elephant and the threats that challenge their survival. You should expect to spend a total of 30 minutes or so at the Elephant Transit Home.
I can not recommend a visit to the Elephant Transit Home enough. If you are visiting Yala or Udawalawe National Park, there is no reason why you shouldn’t stop by for one of the feeding sessions to observe the elephants!
How do I get to Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe?
The best way to get to Udawalawe is by car. If you are traveling from Colombo to Udawalawe be prepared for a 4-5 hour car ride. You do not have to pre-book your visit to Elephant Transit Home. There are plenty of Udawalawe National Park accommodation options if you are staying overnight: I booked myself into Eliyanth Udawalawe, a small hotel that offered incredible value for money. The rooms were spacious and clean with a private balcony overlooking the river, and the hotel can help organize your Udawalawe National Park safari as well. The one thing to note is that they only accept cash, but there are nearby ATMs that you can use. Click here to book your stay at Eliyanth Udawalawe!
Where should I stay at if I’m only visiting Udawalawe for a day trip?
If you aren’t staying overnight in Udawalawe and only have time for a day trip to the national park and Elephant Transit Home, your best bet is to stay in the Southern Province – but get ready for a long day ahead of you as the drive to and from the park can be 2-3 hours long. However, the southern coast has beautiful stretches of beach and you have tons of options for places to stay!
Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa and Anantara Tangalle are excellent five star properties with amazing restaurants and service in this area. If you’re looking for something more low key, check out Talalla Retreat, the perfect place for surf and yoga. All of these hotels are within 2-3 hours’ drive away from Udawalawe National Park.
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Have you been to Elephant Transit Home or Sri Lanka? What did you think? Share your experience with me in the comments section below!
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