Located in the village of Pinnawala, halfway between the city of Colombo and the ancient kingdom of Kandy, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (PEO) is an orphanage, nursery and breeding ground for nearly 100 elephants. It was founded in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Department of Wildlife Conservation to care for and protect the orphaned young elephants that were often found wandering around the forests of Sri Lanka.
Before the invasion of the British in 1815, Sri Lanka was home to an estimated 30,000 elephants. By the 1960s, after nearly a century of being hunted for sport by British colonialists, the elephant population had been decimated to near extinction. The Sri Lankan government attempted to rectify the tragedy of this loss by beginning a sanctuary program for the elephants. The first orphanage was founded at Wilpattu National Park, before being moved to Dehiwala Zoo, and eventually to the 25-acre coconut plantation in the village of Pinnawala that exists today. What began with five baby elephants grew into a program that now cares for a herd of more than 90 elephants. More than 20 elephants of the current herd were born at the facility with the help of the elephant breeding program that was launched in 1982. The orphanage aims to simulate as natural an environment as they can for the elephants, but many of these gentle giants are kept with the facility when they reach adulthood because they are dependent on its regular food supply.