The Elephant Diary!

Trip Start May 06, 2006
Trip End Mar 23, 2009

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, July 18, 2006

First of all I just want to apologise for the lack of personal emails sent to you all. By the length of time between my journal updates you hopefully all know it's nothing personal! While we have internet access at this project it's dial up and I may as well type a letter and post it 'cos it takes about the same amount of time just to read an email so I just have to forget replying!

Next I want to thank everyone for the gifts they gave me before I came away on this trip. Everything's been used so far - the inflatable pillow from Rod (stopped my bed bug paranoia!), the maglites from Rory and Nan and Grandad (even though I managed to leave one in my trouser pocket after Adam's Peak and left it to soak for over 4 days, it magically still works! Such amazing little things!), the hand spray and toilet paper from Auntie Carol (especially in Sri Lanka with the "eat with your right, wipe with your left" motto!), the little bottles from Sarah and Kieron so I don't have to lug massive ones around, my waterproof from mum and dad (again, especially in Sri Lanka, even if it has been covered in mud, lion poo and leaches and got a little rip from Lilo the lion!), my paper journal for my more personal thoughts and really just about everything I was given. The only thing I've packed and not needed so far are a few items of clothing and I haven't really found anything I haven't packed and really needed so I think I judged this one quite well (although I'm sure I probably just spoke too soon!)

Okay, onto the adventures! Week two at the elephant orphanage saw a sad start. On Monday we arrived to find that our already sick elephant, Karuna, had collapsed in the night and we went with the vet team to try and help her. She had IV drips (about 20 of them!) and we had to inject them with Glucose and Vitamin B to try and keep her going. We were there all morning (I have to say looking slightly dangerous with needles and syringes in our hands!) and then the vets continued with the afternoon shift. We got up Tuesday morning to find she had passed away during the night. It was a sad day for all and her owners came to take her away and bury her.

I don't know how much I've explained about why the elephants are here but their owners basically send them here when they are old and cannot work any more or just for a break 'cos they've been working so hard. If you go to this website then you can find out almost all you need to know!

The rest of week two followed the pattern of week one but with less rain and we still didn't really get to do anything all week. On Thursday we took lunch to a local home for physically and mentally disabled people which was so far up in the hills it was ridiculous. We later found out that for a long time Sri Lankans did not consider them part of society and infact these people were often 'disposed of' if they did not fit the 'norm'. Wow. One girl asked us to sing but we persuaded her to instead and she happily sang a Sri Lankan song for us. They thanked us for the food and we headed home. That night we had a BBQ to say goodbye to the 6 volunteers who had helped us along and then headed on our journey to Adam's Peak (which I won't go into again but our legs just about recovered 7 days later!!).

Week 3 began with rain again but we just threw ourselves into it anyway. As much as we didn't want the other volunteers to leave, it did free up 6 elephants so we could take our pick of which one we wanted. I asked for Gune (said like the Goonies!) and his mahout Kalu (not sure of that spelling!). It did mean I have to be at work for 6:30am but it's not such a problem when I'm in bed by 10 every night anyway. Gune is one of two males here and is absolutely massive (including unbelievably large front feet!). He's the one who carries a lot of the trees etc for the other elephants who are too old and can't manage. The other male, Raja, is a tusker and none of us are allowed to work with him 'cos he's far too boisterous and temperamental so we all love Gune more! Gina, who I get on with pretty well, got Rani as her elephant who is a lovely and very friendly female who is love with Gune (as are almost all of the females!). Her mahout and mine are very good friends so we do everything with our elephants together which makes it even more fun. Gina's mahout also speaks quite good English so it's easier to understand what they want us to do, which makes our time here more enjoyable! They both think it's a great game to get us absolutely soaked every morning - both from them and also from elephant showers (where the elephant fills their truck and throws water all over you!).

Along with washing our elephants every morning we also get to help with the vet checks and nurse their wounds - another opportunity for us to look slightly scary to onlookers - and then feed them their dough balls and bread containing their medicine. After that we've been helping with gardening every morning which we all now hate with a passion and no longer get fruit treats (I think our hatred may show!).

At the end of week 3 we decided to head down to the beach and decided on the slightly more lively place of Unawatuna. We had initially been planning to go down there this past weekend so we could party in style for my birthday but when the vet's opportunity came up we changed our plans. It was a bit of a mission to get there and we ended up traveling two hours for no reason but we put it down to experience and got a taxi to our destination - slightly more expensive than our usual bus trips but not so bad between 6 of us and so much more convenient!

Unawatuna was a beautiful beach and not too crowded with tourists. There were definitely more foreigners there than on any trip I've been on so far but there were also a fair few Sri Lankans enjoying their sea! Less stares here than usual and you can walk around in your shorts and vest tops without feeling completely out of place!

We partied hard on Friday night and went to a club night called "Happy Banana" with some English, German and rasta Sri Lankans (more rastas!) which was a lot of fun and we got to dance! Yey! Something that's seriously lacked on this trip so far! We just chilled out on the beach on Saturday and Sunday night and then headed back to MEF on Monday night Disaster with the bus with it being a "Poya Day" (full moon day I think - they have so many random holidays on Mondays here you never really know what they're for!) and there was a 3 hour que for the bus to Colombo so we got another slightly more expensive taxi (although we'd gained 3 people so it was even cheaper!).

All in all a good weekend - even if I did totally burn my stomach leading to blisters a few days later. The craziest part about it? I was in the shade the whole day! Madness! The journey back was a shock to me and I even subtly shed a few tears as we drove through parts of the coast that had been affected by the Tsunami. There was a lot of building and even still clearing up going on and a lot of refuge centres and temporary homes for tsunami victims. In contrast there were also buildings that clearly hadn't been touched since it happened which was heart wrenching and made me wonder if some of it was because the people who had once lived in them hadn't survived. It was enough to make you want to get out and just build and build but I'm really not sure how much I could do. There were also Tsunami escape route signs all through the most affected coastal town we went through with info of what to do in high tides etc but almost all of them pointed to walls and not roads so I'm not sure how effective they'd really be in an emergency! After hours of traveling we arrived safely back at MEF. An appreciation of life day for me.

This past week has been good too. We went to visit Pinnawela which is the bigger elephant orphanage down the road from us. None of us really liked it there as the elephants weren't treated all that nicely - they were pushed to the side of the river just so the tourists could see them instead of being allowed to play in the mud where they looked like they were having so much fun. Poor things. I have to say I'm seeing a distinct lack of respect for the elephants here considering they're supposed be treated as gods by Sri Lankan people. They all have to wear chains (kind of understandable as they're still an unpredictable wild animal but horrible none-the-less) and they're just yelled at all the time. Why they don't kick out more I have no idea. Anyway, we did get to see a little baby of about 3 weeks who was tiny and adorable and we got to see the younger ones being bottle fed but I think in all reality I got the better place to be! Their volunteers came here and had a much better time than we had there!

Something I have been meaning to do is introduce the dogs who live on our property with us. I think I mentioned before that stray dogs are a huge problem in Sri Lanka. They are quite literally everywhere you go and because no-one can afford to neuter them or keep them away from other dogs they are rapidly reproducing and spreading a lot of disease. Rebecca, a previous volunteer, is a veterinary nurse and is looking into setting up a neutering program working with MEF which I would definitely come back for. The ones we have here have been neutered to avoid reproducing - they stick around thanks to old volunteers who kept feeding them so they came back! There are loads more around - especially at night - but we try not to encourage those ones!

Anyway, introductions (god I can ramble can't I?!). Starting with the "office and dinner dog" Choodie/Winnie. We initially thought there were two different dogs who looked the same 'cos people told us different names but we've since decided they are one and the same dog. Choodie escorts us across the road every night and sits with us while we eat dinner. She also barks very aggressively at any Sri Lankan men who she doesn't think should be there. Next is Stumpy. A slightly harsh name being as he only has 3 legs but a very sweet dog. Stumpy sits in the office and also comes teaching with us but never crosses the bridge to our accommodation. Then there's Colin who is pretty much an everywhere dog! He protects us by sleeping outside our door at night and then comes to clear out my elephant with me right up the back of all the houses, makes dough balls with us, sometimes comes to the restaurant and always walks with us in the dark when we're on our own. I'm not sure he'd do anything 'cos he's a bit of a wimp when it comes to the other strays around but it's nice to have him there! The dog we like to think is his girlfriend 'cos they look very similar and make a great couple (except she seems to sleep around a bit!) is Connie. She has arthritis and I think she's been bashed around a bit 'cos she's a little jumpy but she's a lovely dog... most of the time. Connie decided to take a liking to my favourite flip-flops that I left outside of my room for about 5 minutes. I came out and one was gone, walked around the corner and she'd eaten the whole top part of it... faster work than the lions! So I'm now a pair of flip flops down and she was not loved by me for a good 24 hours! And they're the dogs!

I don't know if any of you managed to catch the program on ITV about the place I'm working but we got to see it last week and it was really quite good! Brian Blessed was a slight embarrassment and apparently a complete liar with some of the stuff he was rambling on about but it did wonders for the publicity here! We're going into town tomorrow to see if we can all get copies of it so I don't need to do a video tour of here 'cos that will be more than enough!

On an random note I learnt how to make a roof out of coconut palms this week. I'm not sure what use it'll have anywhere - especially not in England where we don't even have them but it's a skill I quite like knowing! On an even more random note I've observed some more things about Sri Lanka;

1) Their steps are very uneven which Gina just found hilarious when I came out with it - and not just the ones going up Adam's Peak - all over! I find this annoying when you're trying to judge how far you should step!

2) They have constant power cuts here - we found out why in the paper yesterday. It's apparently an energy saving technique!! The power plants tried to make more power available in the hope that people would use less (logic?!) but it hasn't been happening so they'll be creating more power cuts to save energy. We all found this quite amusing and also very odd. Who decides a specific place is using too much power and then how do they cut out that place? And if you're paying your bill then does it make a difference?! I'm sure there's some kind of explanation behind it but I very much doubt we'll ever know what it is!

3) Just down the road from us is about a mile of stalls which sell inflatable toys. Firstly, we're nowhere near the sea up here so we have no idea why they sell them and secondly they sell really random inflatable toys like snowmen... half of Sri Lanka quite literally wouldn't even know what a snowman was! In addition, all the shops are about 10 metres apart from each other all selling the exact same thing. This seems to be very common in Sri Lanka - they haven't quite grasped the fact that even distribution will create more profit than everything being in the same place selling the same thing!

4) Sri Lankan people seem to like starting building things - walls, houses, etc - and then don't seem to finish it. The amount of half houses around that look like they've been like that for some time is quite astonishing!

5) They have this weird headshake thing that we still haven't completely worked out the meaning of. Sara informed us that 'no' is easy to detect, the shaking of the head with a smile means yes and without means okay.... however, this doesn't really seem to be the case and it can often be very confusing! It is quite comical to see people moving their heads a lot like they're trying to balance it or something though!

Right, I think this is quite long enough and should update you all on my elephant adventures! Still doesn't really compare to the lions but am glad things have improved dramatically! (speaking of the lions please go to Gemma and Jimmy's website - to see some more amazing photos!). It's my last day here on Wednesday and I leave very early on Thursday morning to fly to my next destination, Singapore (if you know anywhere good to go or stay then PLEASE email me!). I'll be sad to leave my boy Gune and to have to live out of my backpack properly but I'm also looking forward to exploring more of the world and meeting more people! Thank you again for all your cards and emails for my birthday and I hope to find somewhere to email you all properly soon! Take care!
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Lalith on

Would send me a link of your short video to be used as a Elephant conservation education class material ? send it to

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