We are situated in Sri Lanka and are trying to improve the life of captive elephants. As animal lovers we didn't like witnessing the hardship we were seeing; day in, day out the same suffering and nothing we could do about it. We strive to create an environment without the usual abuse and hardship that goes on so often.
We started thinking, what if we could create a place where the elephants don’t have to work? What if we could start a project where the elephants are free from being ridden and being a tourist attraction? What if we can have a place where they are happy, walk around freely, drink when they want, can play, get excellent care and all the love we can give? These are our goals, however our road is very difficult with many set backs and we are far from where we would like to be. We are still a very young project, we have just opened October 2013 and are very determined towards change and with your help we are slowly -but steadily- getting there!
We are the only place in Sri Lanka that tries to improve the lives of privately owned elephants (see about) without offering rides or any other elephant entertainment.
The Ananda Elephant Sanctuary is the alternative to all these places where elephants are still used as a tourist attraction usually accompanied by animal cruelty.
Unlike any other organisation the Ananda Elephant Sanctuary does NOT allow elephant riding (please see this YouTube movie on why riding is not good - Viewer discretion advised). Elephants are our number one priority and we give them the best life we can. During the day Manika can usually roam around freely inside the enclosure. Once or twice a day she goes for a guided walk in the countryside and gets to the river every day to be washed. You won’t find this anywhere else in the country.
Many of the existing elephant (volunteer) projects in Sri Lanka are elephant riding places where paying tourists come to experience an elephant ride.
What most people don’t know is the suffering elephants endure whilst in training. The elephants undergo extensive training at a very young age before they accept people riding them. The training of an elephant is a very painful ordeal for them, including sleep deprivation, starvation, dehydration, confinement and pain, a lot of pain. All so that the elephant can be used for human needs.
At the tourist riding places - often called sanctuaries and orphanages - elephants are not allowed to play, have to work 7 days a week, don't have access to drinking water when they desire and when they aren’t working they are chained to a tree with no space to move.
Sri Lanka is a relatively small country with high human populations densities and a very significant elephant population (estimated at around 4,000 or more). Elephants are not hunted for sport or food, and rarely if ever poached.
Sri Lanka has a history of training elephants for religious, commercial and domestic purposes that dates back for thousands of years. However, over this period the population of captive elephants has not been fully maintained by captive breeding and has been regularly supplemented by capturing animals (usually juveniles) from the wild. This practice has been largely abandoned for the last few decades, during which time the number of privately owned elephants in the country has dropped to just over 100. However, elephants are still kept at several Buddhist temples and often used in Buddhist pageants called Peraheras, as well displayed at some tourist sites a few of which offer elephant-back rides. There are also captive elephants held at the government-run zoo in Dehiwala, Colombo and more than 80 at its affiliated facility the elephant center at Pinnawala (Born Free).
In Sri Lanka it is common for most elephant places to rent their elephants. We are also renting our elephant. By renting her we give her a life most elephants could only dream off and ensure she doesn’t end up at a riding place or another bad environment filled with pain and anguish.
Buying an elephant is almost impossible. Most elephant owners are very rich and care about the status an elephant gives them and their family - they won't consider to sell or give away their prized possession. Our deepest wish is to give a better life to all of these wonderful animals. We are actively searching to get more elephants to live with us, however it is very difficult. There are (fortunately!) not many captive elephants in Sri Lanka, but the owners usually don't care about the welfare of their elephant.
Every elephant has their personal mahout who stays with them for all their life. He usually comes from a family of mahouts with centuries of experience. Unfortunately their way of dealing with elephants is based on negative reinforcement. To make them see that treating the elephant with love and care is better remains difficult, very difficult.
The project is impossible without the mahout because he is the only one who is allowed by the owner to control the elephant. When renting an elephant the mahout (elephant keeper) is part of the package. We are not the employer of the mahout (the owner is) which makes the situation very complicated at times.
The mahout is motivated by money, they usually don't see their job as a privilege. At an average elephant tourist place the mahouts receive a huge amount of tips every day from the many tourists. Since we allow only a very small number of visitors per day he will miss this extra income -despite the good salary we pay him.
We ask a lot from our mahout: no drinking, no hitting of the elephants, no shouting, no smoking, no asking for tips, be nice and passionate. It sounds crazy but in most other places abusive behavior is going on day after day. Obviously not at our project. From the point of view of the mahout we set difficult conditions to work in.
To keep the mahout motivated we would be very thankful for your support in the form of a tip if you are happy with his behavior.
We take our elephant on walks through the rural area to get her recommended exercise. During the walks outside the project grounds she will carry a light chain around her neck and the mahout will carry an ankus. The mahout is not permitted to use the ankus in an abusive way and rarely uses it at all. If we don't bring the chain and ankus we might be held liable in case of an incident which may result in the closure of the project.
Manika is chained at night. This is not our choice, we have build an enclosure ensuring she doesn't have to been chained at all. However, the owner is scared something will happen to her at night if she is walking free. We are trying to change his mind but this process will take a long time unfortunately. We are ready for it, now it's the owners turn.