Elephant Transit Home

February 14th, 2013 | Posted in Vibhishana

The Elephant Transit Home, run by Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation, is a unique orphanage whose mission is to release orphaned Asian elephants back into the wild.  Most of the elephants at the Transit Home were orphaned due to Human Elephant Conflict.  Since opening in 1995, over 90 orphans have been freed in Udawalawe National Park.

Elemotion Foundation visits the Transit Home regularly.  We are extremely privileged to get a special access to the facilities, spend  hours consulting with staff, and view the babies from a distance.  Read interview with Dr. Tharaka Prasad.

There is no petting or cuddling the babies at this orphanage.  In fact, to prepare the orphans for life in the wild, human contact is kept to a bare minimum.  Milk feeding and veterinary care are the only times when the staff touches or handles the orphans. Only the very young or ill babies in need of constant attention enjoy contact with the keepers.

The orphans, aged between a few weeks to 5-years, are allowed to socialize and roam freely inside the park.  They are never chained.  There is a forest for shade and a reservoir for bathing and playing.  Organized milk feeding occurs every three hours.  The public can buy a ticket and watch the adorable feeding (9am and 12 pm only) from a designated platform that does not disturb the orphans.

With a capacity for 40 orphans, the staff is attentive and careful to the special needs of these babies.  Introducing a baby elephant to milk formula is a difficult and often dangerous task.  Intolerance, diarrhea, and dehydration can severely threaten the life of an already weak and stressed baby elephant.  Treatment of injuries, wounds, abrasions, factures, dehydration, and malnourishment are also part of the daily routine.

Once the orphans reach the age of 4-5 years, they are grouped together in small batches for release into the Udawalawe National Park.  In the wild, they face enormous challenges.  Some orphans integrate into wild families, some shadow but do not join their older wild counterparts, and others stay together in juvenile herds. But, whatever path they follow, thanks to the care they received at the Transit Home, the orphans are strong and have a better chance of prospering in the wild.

Elemotion Foundation would like share one particular success story. In November 2013, we travelled inside Udawalawe National Park and were delighted to identify a herd of female elephants consisting of at least two former orphans. Head Transit Home veterinarian, Dr. Tharaka, identified these orphans as Mathalie and Sandamali. They are now mothers and have two calves each.  It was wonderful to see the orphans doing so well in the wild.

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To see our latest work at the Transit Home, please visit the Elephant Transit Home page. You may choose to make a one time or monthly donation.