Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka
Want to visit an ethical elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka to support their survival? Read on!
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.) If you want to visit an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka, read on for why I recommend the Elephant Transit Home!
Looking for more Sri Lanka travel tips and destination guides? Click here for everything you need to help plan your trip to Sri Lanka!
What is the Elephant Transit Home?
“The primary objective of the Elephant Transit Home is the rehabilitation of orphaned baby elephants and their release back to the wild.”
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. In 1995 Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation established the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home to care for these vulnerable elephants: 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 approximately 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. The venue is also listed on World Animal Protection’s list of best practice elephant venues in Asia.
The best time to visit the Elephant Transit Home
Udawalawe is in a hot, semi-arid environment and the annual average temperature is about 32 degrees Celsius (approximately 90 Fahrenheit). 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 after their morning safari or 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 2-3 USD and 1 USD).
How to get to the 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, but if you are already down in south Sri Lanka then the drive will take anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on which part of the coast you are staying in. You do not have to pre-book your visit to Elephant Transit Home.
The best place to stay in Udawalawe
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. Click here to book your stay at Eliyanth Udawalawe or click here for some other accommodation options in Udawalawe!
If you aren’t staying overnight in Udawalawe and only have time for a day trip to the national park and Elephant Transit Home, then your best bet is to stay in the Southern Province. The southern coast in Sri Lanka 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 or Villa Talay (ex-Zephyr Talalla), a beautiful boutique beachfront villa with a private pool.
Independent travelers looking for a more intimate and quiet accommodation option can also consider Sam & Lola’s (my property) in Hiriketiya – there are only 2 standalone villas, each with their own private plunge pool. Book Villa Sam here, and book Villa Lola here. All of these hotels are within 2-3 hours’ drive away from Udawalawe National Park.
Booking tip: Not 100% certain of your travel dates? Choose a hotel that offers a flexible cancellation policy on Booking.com – click here for more accommodation options and current rates in Udawalawe!
What to expect from a visit to the Elephant Transit Home
Dozens and dozens of baby elephants! Visiting this elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka 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 unless you’re lucky enough to visit during the right season when calves are born.
Elephant Transit Home is home to 40-60 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 viewing platform is a good 15 meters away from the elephants and the facility does not allow any visitors to touch, feed or pose for pictures next to the elephants: the hallmarks of a true elephant sanctuary. If you want to take high quality photos you will need to bring a zoom lens (150 mm and above) – that’s how far away they are!
The baby elephants are released into the feeding area in batches, and they prance towards the carers who have their milk ready for them – sometimes you can even hear their adorable little trumpets of excitement as they rush over for their grub. 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 45 minutes-or-so at the Elephant Transit Home.
I can not recommend a visit to the Elephant Transit Home enough if you want to visit a genuine elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka. 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!
Headed to Sri Lanka? You might enjoy these other insider tips and guides:
- Don’t support the unethical treatment of animals in Sri Lanka. Click here for 15 things to avoid doing in Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see elephants. Here is my guide on where to see elephants in Sri Lanka
- Head on over here for my ultimate guide to visiting Udawalawe National Park
- Southern Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful places in the country. Click here for more ideas for what to do in Sri Lanka’s deep south
- Need help planning your trip to Sri Lanka? Click here for more Sri Lanka destination guides and travel tips
- Love elephants? Explore other ethical elephant orphanages, sanctuaries and national parks around the world here
You absolutely should stop by this ethical elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka! Have you been to Elephant Transit Home or Sri Lanka? What did you think? Share your experience with me in the comments section below.
Pin this for later!
This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to book using these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my website by using these links, I only recommend products or services that I have personally used & hotels I enjoyed visiting.
Featured video music credit: Summer – Royalty Free Music from Bensound
Enjoyed reading this article? Subscribe to the mailing list!
* Unsubscribe at any time. Your e-mail address will only ever be used to send the occasional Yoga, Wine & Travel newsletter.
Ahh we’re so going to visit this place when we’re in Sri Lanka. I hoped there would be an ethical place like this to support, but until I read your blog I did not find any. Minimum interaction, no chains, sounds good. And do they succeed in releasing them back into the wild? Thanks!
Hi Kirsten, yes they do. I’ve seen a few in Udawalawe with tracking collars (which they place to monitor their progress in the first few months). According to their stats, 103 orphans have been released into the wild. Of that number, management reports 7 animals have died.
“Likelihood of survival after release is very good. It is especially wonderful when released Transit Home orphans, who are now adults, live in wild herds with calves of their own. In 2000, two female orphans named Maththali and Sandamali were released in a small group. Both babies fully integrated with wild females and now live together in a herd. Maththali and Sandamali are doing exceptionally well. Both orphans are now mothers to two wild born calves of their own. To date, 15 released orphans have become successful mothers. A total of 16 babies have been born in the wild to these ten mothers.”
Sad that it’s necessary to exist, but beautiful to hear that so many have released successfully. Thank you!
this is really great…. I love the concept that they are preparing them to be in the wild again. I read a lot about Elephant homes where they are chained or used for tourist attractions.. saw that a lot in Thailand and it was hard to watch.
Sri Lanka has done a great job of animal conservation and protection – there IS one center here that claims to be an “orphanage” but has a pretty bad reputation. Last I heard, the government was working with that center to train the mahouts to better treat the elephants – a step in the right direction.
Oh, I love a feel-good story involving elephants! I had no idea that there was such thing as a transit home in Sri Lanka, but now I do and I’m so glad! I would love to have a visit and see all the “little” elephants running around!
They are the cutest! Just eating, playing and chilling – as they should 🙂
Now I REALLY want to go to Sri Lanka. The baby elephants are so cute. I went to a place like this in Nairobi for orphaned baby elephants. It is fantastic to hear, even just in the name, that the plan is not for permanent captivity.
Was that the David Sheldrick Orphanage? I’d love to see African elephants in the wild at some point!
Hey! This is so comprehensive! Love that you cater to all aspects of visiting the ETH.. in fact, I didn’t even know ther were transit homes for elephants! It’s also relieving to read that visitors aren’t allow to directly touch/feed the baby elephants… certainly a place I’d love to visit sometime! =)
I’m so glad you found this helpful! Thank you so much for taking the time to read it 🙂
My gf worked for more than a year in Bolivia for a monkey rehabilitation center. She came in contact with lots of animals that were kept as pets, some of them quite abused during their imprisonment having extreme disorders. Seing there are lots of other organisations out there, helping animals (such as elephants in this case) is great. Watching the process of an insecure, afraid animal get back on his own feet and be able to be released back into the wild and survive on his own makes me think that there are at least some people who care 🙂 *faith in humanity restored*
So sad that animal abuse is rampant around the world, but at least there are people like your gf who are doing amazing work!
Looks like they’re taking good care of their elephants! I’m glad you were able to learn about how they are working with their elephants and their conservation. I’m so so happy to see more ethical places that actually take care of their animals!
I hope that this trend continues around the world, I can’t imagine a day when there are no elephants in the world.
These elephants are so cute. I love baby elephants especially because they seem so small but they’re actually about human height. The Elephant Transit Home is a really good organisation. The human/elephant conflict is horrible but I’m glad they’re being proactive about a solution and protecting the babies till they’re old enough to survive on their own. I would love to visit there one day.
I just hope that this model can be used in other countries too! You can even sponsor an elephant and be invited to witness them being released in the wild (again, no touching/riding).
I went to a similar place in Kenya and loved every minute! I loved learning about the work they were doing to protect the elephants, as well as their efforts to get them released back into the wild. Elephants are the coolest creatures!
Was that the David Sheldrick Trust? I’ve done a little reading on that centre and it seems like the family is doing some incredible work!
It’s so nice to see another elephant sanctuary actually treating the elephants well. I knew about Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, but now I’ll have to put Elephant Transit Home on my list when I finally make it to Sri Lanka. I love how they actually release the babies back into the wild!
I loved my short time at ENP! They are slightly different to ETH as they don’t return elephants to the wild (because their elephants tend to need lifelong medical care), but ETH takes in orphaned baby elephants with the purpose of re-integration.
I have read once from a blog talking about some of the elephant orphanages in Sri Lanka to be a tourist trap, because they chain the elephants. I’m glad that there are some places there that is practicing responsible tourism that protects the elephants as well!
Yes, there is a very famous “orphanage” in Sri Lanka that has received a lot of criticism. I’ll leave it to you to do your own due diligence, but the government has recently conducted additional training for the mahouts given the widespread negative feedback of that particular facility.
This place sounds fantastic! I adore Elephants too… (I mean who doesn’t)!! And while it would melt my heart to feed, bathe and play with baby Elephants – like many ‘Orphanages’ offer, that sort of experience is simply not fair on these wonderful gentle giants! This place, however, is doing it right – I’d much rather watch them play in the distance knowing that they’ll one day be back in the wild 🙂
Thanks for sharing – I will add this place to my list x
Thanks for reading this, Rachel! I think it’s important that the facility places the elephants’ well-being above all else.
I’ve also visited the orphanage and was impressed. When possible, they work toward reintroducing the elephants back into the wild and a new herd. So this isn’t a zoo- it’s a true rehab facility.
With the exception of 1 elephant who has a lifelong injury, I believe all the others are returned to the wild once they turn 5.
This is fantastic! I had no idea places like these could be visited. I was in a rescue centre in Chiang Mai, but it was for adult elephants. And OMG the hotel near the Sanctuary looks lovely!
Did you go to Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai? I love the day that I spent there!