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The Pinawala 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.

The daily highlight is the walk from the Orphanage to take the herd down to the river to bathe the elephants. It's amazing to watch an entire herd splashing around and rolling in the river, just a few feet in front of you!

"This project is fabulous and if you love elephants, like me - book. Seriously, BOOK NOW!"  Jo Packer

List of ALL PROJECTS in Sri Lanka  List of ALL PROJECTS in South Africa 

Start Dates All year round - you choose your start and finish dates.
Duration From 1 week to 12 weeks or longer, subject to visa requirements
Requirements  No qualifications needed, just lots of enthusiasm, initiative and ideas, and the ability to be very proactive. Minimum age 18.
Price Please see Full Price List
What's included Arranging your program,
Full pre-departure support and assistance,
Payment Protection insurance

Meeting you at Colombo airport
Transfer to your accommodation
Transport to and from your project
Local in-country team support and backup
24-hr emergency support.
Certificate of Completion
What's not included Flights, Insurance, Cost of Visas (if a visa is required), Return transfer to airport
Who can do this Project? This project is open to all nationalities and all ages over 17.
Suitable for gap years or those taking a year out, grown-up gappers, career breakers, anyone interested in caring for animals and working with wildlife overseas.
Suitable if you want to learn about elephants, projects abroad or study abroad.
Also available as a summer placement or a short break activity.


  • An exciting, never-to-be-forgotten adventure into Asia and the fascinating culture of Sri Lanka

  • The satisfaction of helping captive animals and knowing that your efforts made a difference to them.

  • New skills, more confidence, a greater understanding of a different culture, invaluable personal and professional development.

  • An entry on your CV or résumé that will put you head and shoulders above most others in the job market.

  • And best of all ... an unforgettable experience!

"I wanted to end this year by thanking you, and all at Travellers, for making this year so special. As you know, my passion for elephants runs very deep and has done for as long as I can remember, and you were able to help me make my lifelong dream come true, and for that I am so eternally grateful." Travellers Volunteer, Jo 'The Elephant Lady' Harris

"I've been so wrapped up in baby elephants that I haven’t been on the internet at all! My stay so far has been really fantastic, all the staff are lovely ... I’m feeling so blessed and thankful for your organisation, as it has given me one of the best experiences of my life. I would especially like to say how wonderful Nerangela has been throughout this entire trip. She really is lovely, and so knowledgeable about the area." Laura Crilly (Australian)

Volunteering with elephants at a sanctuary in Sri Lanka


This project is an elephant experience, rather than elephant conservation ... and it is an awesome experience! There are a few elements combined on this programme, making it a very interesting, varied and satisfying project. You’ll participate in the following:

  1. Working with the elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in the mornings, during the week,
  2. Helping at a private Elephant Sanctuary two afternoons a week, where you’ll be able to bathe elephants hands-on.
  3. Helping to teach disadvantaged local children and monks at a local school. This will take place one afternoon a week, but could be more or less during the time that you there because it is as needed.

Your Work at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was established 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department. Today Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is under the Department of National Zoological Gardens and provides home to approx 90 orphaned elephants. The Orphanage receives lots of tourists each day

As most of the elephants are not particularly tame, the majority of your work is more ‘behind-the-scenes’ than it is ‘hands-on’ with the elephants themselves, although you will have the opportunity to do some hands-on work. The type of work you will be involved in will include:

  • Mucking out the elephant enclosures in the morning (this is hard, muddy work!)
  • Helping to hose down the elephants (where necessary). This is a lot of fun and the elephants really enjoy it.
  • Also help to hose down the baby elephants in their enclosures
  • Helping to feed the elephants
  • Going out into the jungle and foraging for food for the elephants
  • Keeping the project site clean and tidy
  • 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!
  • 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.

Volunteers have recently been stopped from washing the elephants in the river at Pinnawala due to safety reasons, but you will be able to do so at the Elephant Sanctuary in the afternoons (see description below).

Your Work at the Private Elephant Sanctuary

On two afternoons a week you’ll go to a private Elephant Sanctuary to assist. The centre is approx 1km from Pinnawala. There you’ll be able to wash the elephants hands-on, using corn husks, etc. You’ll get down and dirty in the river with them – and it’s an amazing experience!

There are currently two female elephants at the sanctuary, and both of them are fairly tame, which is why you’re able to get close up to them in the river to give them a good scrubbing down. They love it!!

The elephants are rescued domestic elephants that used to be used in the construction industry to haul timber. With the advent of modern technology and access to 4-wheel-drives, the elephants are no longer used to transfer the timber and have thus been taken into care at the sanctuary so that they can at last be given a good quality of life.

You’ll spend an hour with these elephants, starting at 3.00 in the afternoon, when it’s cooler for the elephants and thus avoiding the full heat of the midday sun.

Your Work at a local School for Monks and Disadvantaged Children

Once a week you’ll help teach Monks in a local Buddhist Temple or disadvantaged children in a rural house in the area. The children are between the ages of 5 and 13 years and classes usually range from 10 to 15 students. You will teach for about 2 hours in the afternoon usually from 3.30pm or 4.00pm depending on the morning activities.

Lessons tends to be informal and you can teach them English through the medium of games, music or using a question-answer style, etc.

The school is very bright and cheerful and the work you do with them will be beneficial to them and very satisfying to you. Volunteers generally love the opportunity to mix with the children in the local community and knowledge is a two-way street as you teach them and they educate you on their culture.


The Elephant Orphanage is a sanctuary for rescued, injured or abused elephants and attracts visitors from all over the world to view these magnificent animals. Around 80 elephants have found homes at Pinnawala, including some small babies who have been born into the herd.

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.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage helps this Human-Elephant conflict by giving the orphaned elephants a wonderfully happy and healthy life, including allowing for natural social behaviour, good medical treatment and food satisfaction.

The Orphanage is reputedly one of the largest centres of its kind in the world, with one of the most successful captive breeding programmes for Asian elephants.

"I have walked with the elephants, fed babies, cleaned up after them, had an afternoon with the vet to talk about elephants. I have been to heaven and back. I have watched them play and scratch, watched a baby get to grips with her trunk, it was hard work but when she finally picked up the twig she gave the biggest squeal of delight and went to show her mum.

I am the luckiest lady in the world to have been given the opportunity of living a life’s dream. It was more than I could have imagined and has changed my life completely. I will be going back to Sri Lanka next year, I have left my heart over there and need to go back to pick it up.”  Lesley Rogers

During the day Kegalle bustles with people and street markets. The evenings are quiet with the Sri Lankan culture favouring early mornings and early nights. There are always a few volunteers on this placement together, so there is a very sociable atmosphere in the house. However, do keep the quietness in mind and be prepared for slow-paced evenings.

Climate: In the lowlands the climate is typically tropical with an average temperature of 27OC in Colombo.  In the higher elevations it can be quite cool with temperatures going down to 16OC at an altitude of nearly 2,000 metres. Bright, sunny warm days are the rule and are common even during the height of the monsoon - climatically Sri Lanka has no off-season.

Watch Graham Jenkins washing an element and hear what he has to say about his placement at the Elephant Orphanage

Waiting to take the elephants back after their trip to the river to bathe


Accommodation has been arranged for you at Le Elephant Corridor, close to the village of Pinnawalla. This is a privately run guest house belonging to our Organiser, with clean but basic facilities. It is very conveniently located because you are close to the project and also close to Pinnawala Village, which is a local hub of food shops, restaurants and banks.

You'll share a bedroom (with one other volunteer). Each bedroom has access to a private Western bathroom, but there is no hot water and the showers are cold water showers, which are very refreshing when you've spent a hard day in the Sri Lankan sun. (The climate is predominantly hot and humid for most of the year.)

There is a communal living area which is available for you to use, it has a TV and DVD player, as well as a CD player which you can relax in during the evenings. There is internet access at the guest house.

Pinnawalla Village is a short distance from the accomodation (3 kilometres) if you are looking for entertainment. It has restaurants and bars, food shops, as well as an ATM machine and banks. There are buses and taxis within walking distance of the accomodation, which you can catch into Pinnawalla. Alternatively, you can walk into the village during daylight hours.

The owner and his staff are very friendly and will ensure that you feel at home!

Food is provided (3 meals a day) and consists of typical Sri Lankan dishes, except for breakfast where there is a Western choice. The guesthouse can cater for special diets and a packed lunch can be provided if you want to stay out all day.

Meals are served in the dining room. The drinking water is not safe to drink, but you can buy drinking water and additional snacks at a food shop located within walking distance of the guesthouse.

Got any questions? Please email us: info@travelersworldwide.org


Click here to see the BBC News Profile Video of Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Once you have applied for a placement, we'll contact you and send you our Welcome Pack. You'll also receive Log-on details and password for our Volunteer Extranet where you'll have access to all the documentation and information which we've put together to facilitate preparations for your adventure! Your Project Co-ordinator for your country will liaise with you throughout the arrangements process, as well as while you're on your placement and on your return home.

The documents you'll have access to also include a Country Factfile, Safety Guide and any manuals that may assist you on your particular program (e.g. Teaching Guide, Sports Manuals, Enrichment Suggestions for Animal Care, etc.). We do all we can to make your stay one that you'll never forget. This is a truly awesome, elegant and beautiful country.

As with all our destinations, the culture and heritage is different to what you're used to ... which, although one of the most exciting aspects of travelling, should be borne in mind.    Self-reliance and independence are highly appreciated in all our destinations and will help you to make the most of this wonderful opportunity! 

On Arrival, your Introduction to the Country: When you arrive you will be welcomed by a member of our Sri Lankan staff who will take you to your accommodation and introduce you to everyone. During your first few days you'll be given an induction so that you can learn about the country and its culture, as well as other useful information, like how to use the transport system, banks, safety issues, tipping, and lots more.

You will have weekends free and this will also allow some time for travelling and sight seeing.


Feedback on the Elephant Experience Project in Sri Lanka



While on your placements, you can also book some Optional Add-Ons to make the most of your Travel Experience.

1-Wk Elephant Orphanage
Meditation Course

This project can also be combined with any of our other projects in Sri Lanka, or you could even do a second project in a different region of the country, thus doubling your adventure and enjoyment!

"Just wanted to drop you a line as my project in Sri Lanka comes to an end to tell you that I have had the best time of my life. The project has been amazing, both the teaching and the elephant orphanage. It has been a truly amazing experience."  David Constable



We cannot BEGIN to tell you how beautiful this paradise island is! Nor how cheap to live and get around.  It is almost too good to be true! But it is true. 

Towering Pagodas, Hindu temples and ancient fortresses to holy rivers and sacred mountains. The local people are very welcoming and friendly, especially in the rural areas. The tea plantations are a must, the lace making, monuments and architectural splendours, etc., but the most appealing is the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala. Not to be missed! It's an emotive sight that you'll never forget!

Sri Lanka has miles and miles of amazing beaches. Some of our favourites are:

MIRISSA: Perhaps a contender for the most beautiful beach in the world. Long, deserted and hot. You know you have got away from it all as you sit and watch the sunset over this horizon…The snorkelling is also incredible here.

NEGOMBO: To the north of Colombo lies Negombo, a busting fishing town with golden beaches and a pallet of colour provided by sails and boats against the deep blue of the ocean. 

UNAWATUNA: A sleepy peaceful cove with deep still water and a temple overlooking the bay from the protecting cliffs.

HIKKADUWA: A long stretch of beach with plenty of hostels, restaurants and some nice bars, not forgetting the impromptu beach parties held on the beach front bars blaring Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Led Zeplin and many other classics! Sri Lanka is a conservative island brimming with culture and Hikkaduwa offers an exciting opportunity to vacation for the odd celebratory weekend! Many a volunteer birthday has been seen in over Hikkaduwa cocktails. You can also body board and even surf on this beach.

ARUGAM BAY: This tiny fishing village is Sri Lanka’s newest hot spot and hosts the best surfing and an easy going happy party atmosphere. With its wide sweeping beach in front of the village and year round gorgeous swimming it is no surprise that this bay has developed into a low budget travellers haunt.

"Thank you for the experience you gave me, it was stunning and a memory that always always always brings me warmth"
Tim Hancock

White Water Rafting:Sri Lanka’s boulder stream rivers are the ideal setting for white water rafting. This is the best way to see the stunning environment what this region has to offer. Many tours are available and many begin with days of action, rafting the white waters. This high adventure is suitable for fish time ‘go for it’ rafters and experts alike.  Rafting has become a very popular exciting yet safe adventure sport option.

Rock Climbing and Mountaineering: Mountaineering is an adventure sport that requires skills and levels of fitness that few other adventure sports can match. The mountain ranges in Sri Lanka offer breath taking, enthralling, climbing routes. Climbing is all about discovering the natural world around and with you.

Hiking and Trekking: There’s no better way to explore the natural scenic beauty of this island with diverse climatic zones. Trekking is an excellent way to explore a country, people, their traditions and beliefs. Paths and campsites have been set up to give nature lovers the experience of a lifetime. All possible steps are taken to ensure local community benefit and nature conservation in keeping with all international camping guidelines.

Canoeing & Kayaking: This relatively new sport is rated as the most adventurous of all adventure sports. It involves descending a stream as it drops over waterfalls and boulders. In Sri Lanka they have low waterfalls for beginners and some as high as 700 feet for the very experienced - all surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

The driest and best seasons are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September on the east coast. December to March is also the time when most foreign tourists come, the majority of them escaping the European winter.

The coastal stretch south of Colombo offers palm-lined sandy expanses as far as the eye can see. The Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants or the masked devil dances. Then there are the ruins, ancient and inspiring architecture in the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa to satisfy any archaeologist.

To read about Travel arrangements and what happens when you arrive in your new country, please click here.

Support & Backup: To read about the excellent Support & Backup we provide before you leave and during your program, please click here.



Help conserve the Elephants and other wildlife in Wasgamuwa National Park. Go back to basics in stunning rural Sri Lanka and play a part in the conservation and protection of the country's majestic giants while getting involved in the local community. A real gem of a project! One moment you could be laying cameras to identify new leopard trails, and next you could be staying overnight in a tree-house to watch for elephants.
This project is a very caring sanctuary set in a small private game reserve in the Eastern Cape. It is a very popular and worthwhile placement where your work and help is desperately needed. You'll assist in hand-rearing, feeding and generally looking after many different animal species, including about 150 different species of birds, most of which you will never have seen before.