The Elephant Freedom Project Week

July 9-16th, 2018 Kigalle, Sri Lanka

What a week! The usual mash up of good and bad – awesome family/elephant vs me sick… again. Thought it was pneumonia but I think I ended up wasting the anti-biotics … it was just that I had a fever and that is never good.

What is really not good is being trapped on a little bed in a dingy room while everyone else gets to go do all the fun stuff like scrubbing Seetha, the elephant. bah! I did manage about 3 days before falling on my face… well, not really. I fell on my ass the first day going down the steep driveway gouging my foot. bleh But being the trooper I am, I carried on leaving a trail of blood. Nothing was going to stop me from meeting Seetha and helping to scrub her enormous back… At least not until day 4 when I was too weak to get out of bed. But until then I was on top of my form – walking, scrubbing, yakking English with students at the English school, chatting with visitors.

So let me tell you about the Elephant Freedom Project. It was started by this family, the Dissanayakas and their friend Tim. Tim had arrived in the area around 5 years ago to volunteer at one of the many elephant ‘rescue’ centers in the area but was dismayed to discover they still used chains and the bullhook. He was staying with Ananda and Mali and the three of them had many discussions about how awful the captive Sri Lankan elephant is treated… and those turned into discussions on how it might be different. Next thing you know Tim is off to Thailand to talk to Lek at the Elephant Nature Park and see how she was doing it.

My beautiful Sri Lankan family ❤

So you can do ½ day programs, full day and even multiple days and you can stay there and they will feed you the most amazing home cooked meals! They will take you to the Elephant Dung Paper Factory, you can go to an English school and the students can practice on you, and they will give you cooking lessons! The accommodations are basic but comfortable with a bottom-less tea pot. I hope if you are in Sri Lanka you will stop by and support this wonderful family.

You know how people often say, well what can I do? I am just one person/family… well this family didn’t say that, they just sloughed ahead and worked through the inevitable heartbreak and struggle when you are bucking tradition but they are making a difference, not just in Seetha’s life but as being an example to the tourists and locals that you don’t need the chains and the bullhook if you treat your elephant with respect. Every day she is walked once in the morning and once in the afternoon and every time there is a gaggle of tourists trailing behind her so the locals see this, other tourists see this and the ripple effect takes over. We don’t have to ride an elephant to enjoy her, in fact I think that my times walking with the elephants have been so much better, so much more real than if I was perched on top of her, hurting her back, listening to the chains rattle. ~shudder~ No, I get to look her in the eye and know that I am not adding to her suffering and that means the world to me.

People look at those huge bodies and can’t understand how it would possibly hurt her to ride them. Well there’s a reason riding elephants are drapped in chains – the elephant is is constant pain and will only tolerate you up there because she has no choice. Their spines are very fragile.




4 thoughts on “The Elephant Freedom Project Week

  1. Thank you for highlighting the plight of the elephant, in Sri Lanka and in many countries. We too visited Lek’s elephant sanctuary in Thailand, which is absolutely wonderful. She has done an amazing job at rescuing elephants and educating the public about elephant abuse. Uduwalawe, where the orphanage is located in Sri Lanka, has a different mission: their priority is to try to deal with the constant flow of young elephants brought into their care when the babies have lost their moms. Of course one can always point to shortcomings, but if Uduwalawe did not exist and babies were not rescued, the conversation would be about the necessity to create an orphanage. Last time we visited the center they had over 50 young elephants in their care!! Quite an accomplishment.

    Thank you for highlighting the cruelty which occurs when tourists ride elephants. This will only be stopped once tourists are aware of the issues and do not pay for the rides. Every little bit helps…



    • Hi Peta;
      Thanks for dropping by.
      Are you talking about the Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe? Or that thing at Pinawala? Because the orphanage at Pinawala is awful, the reports of chains and beatings can’t be ignored. On the other hand at least with the Elephant Transit Home the babies are being readied to be released into the national park as soon as they are five years old. I have no idea what becomes of the babies at the orphanage.


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