Pinnawala's darkest day

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka is a popular tourist destination. Besides being a tourist hot spot, the very purpose of Pinnawala is to provide for and care for our elephants. These elephants are a national treasure.

We all bear some responsibility towards their well being.

It is heartbreaking to hear that the 'custodian of the temple of the tooth' has forcibly separated two baby elephants from their mother.


The Island said the two baby tuskers were forcibly separated from their mothers by the Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela, the chief custodian of the Temple of the Tooth, on Saturday night at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, about 80 km northeast of the capital Colombo.

Despite protests by some officials at the elephant orphanage, after hours of battle, the Diyawadana Nilame who was supported by nearly 50 persons including police and Army personnel finally managed to take the two elephants to the central town of Kandy.

The elephants were just too young to be separated from their mother.

"I consider it as one of darkest hours in my career as an employee at Pinnawala to witness the struggle between the two mothers who were heavily chained, when their babies were taken away. We boast our cultural and religious values but we continue to be inhuman when it comes to dealing with animals," a spokesman from the elephant orphanage told the Island.

The 'custodian of the temple of the tooth' has the authority to take elephants from the orphanage to groom them for the Kandy Perahara (A Sri Lankan Buddhist festival).

But employees at the orphanage insist that an elephant must be at least 5 years old before being separated from the mother.

It is also a fact that elephants without parental guidance become unruly when older.

In the early 90s "animal experts" - I love how they call themselves animal experts - got on helicopters and started shooting all older elephants in the back of the head at South Africa's Kruger National Park. The move was a calculated decision made after what they called "extensive research" to control elephant populations at the park.

It was heartbreaking to see older elephants being shot in the back of the head with the calf mourning it's death right next to it.

10 years on the officials of Kruger face reality. The Elephants who grew up without parental guidance, or the guidance of older elephants are now killing South Africa's endangered rhinos. The elephants show constant aggression and very rowdy behaviour.

Similarly Diyawadana Nilame Niranjan Dela Bandara will also pay the same price. These separated elephants are bound to display aggressive behaviour. It will eventually lead to the demise of two innocent animals. All because of the stupidity of one man.

The Island

One of the two baby tuskers forcibly taken out of the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage from their mothers has broken a tusk and the other is also injured.

Sources said yesterday that when the baby elephants were taken into Diyawadana Nilame Niranjan Dela Bandara's residence they were kept in a garage, where one of them charged at the motor cycle and destroyed it.

Meanwhile, a senior official at the Department of Wildlife yesterday said they had not authorised the removal of the two elephants from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

Environment Lawyer Jagath Gunawardena said elephants legally came under the Department of Wildlife and to transfer them other than to the National Zoological Gardens in Dehiwela and Pinnawala approval had to be obtained from the Department of Wildlife.

He said that if they had not obtained a permit from the Wildlife Department, the process would be considered illegal.

Thanks to Chin who left a comment below with the contact details of the Temple and the Custodian. Email them and express your anger and dismay.

General contact email for the Temple -
Diyawadana Nilame -
Administration -
Finance -
National Buddhist Affairs -
International Buddhist Affairs -
International Buddhist Center -
Perahera Office
Media -

or by visiting their website: