After a few days in Kandy we took a trip to The Millennium Elephant Foundation on the way to the Pinawella Elephant Orphanage. We spent a couple of hours there washing and riding the elephant as well as just hanging out and watching others do the same. It was a great experience and the first time either of us have been on the back of an elephant. Sri Lankan Elephants are smaller than those in Africa but, when you are on them, you are still quite high. The whole experience was certainly worth it and the foundation that hosts the elephants seems to treat them pretty well. We both would recommend going here to ride the elephants as it seems they do take their conservation responsibilities seriously and genuinely do care for the well being of the animals.
The Millennium Elephant Foundation
According to their website the Millennium Elephant Foundation (MEF) "The MEF charity was founded in August 1999 with the assistance of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and has been working continually to improve the care, protection and treatment of elephants in Sri Lanka by providing a place of sanctuary and medical services and facilities. " The foundation also promises fun activities such as elephant washing, elephant showers and elephant rides. The rides vary in length and come at different prices.
So how did we choose to go ride elephants at the MEF? Well, the truth is, we didn't. Queenie wanted to go to the Pinawella Elephant Orphanage. We arranged a driver and mentioned to him that we also wanted to go to a place where we could ride an elephant. I guess the MEF is a staple destination on the tourist route so the driver dropped us off there. It wasn't a bad idea. You can also get there by bus and tuk tuk but that would take time. We were quite happy with the decision to go there with a driver. We chose the most expensive option (I think it was 4,000 rupees per person) for the longest ride possible. At the time I remember thinking it was a bit steep but now I am happy that we did pay. It was worth it.
The Ride itself
The elephant wash, Queenie's shower and the ride are shown briefly in the video below.
As you no doubt heard in the video, our elephant's name was Sitha and she was 35 years old. The first thing we got to do was to give her a wash. You get a fairly coarse brush and just scrub her down. She seemed to enjoy it and didn't really mind lying down in the water to relax. She was a sweet elephant and it was indeed a privilege to be this close to such a beautiful animal. Additionally, she did look well taken care of but I didn't like the chains wrapped around her neck. That just seemed like a burden she didn't need.
Queenie then got on Sitha and Sitha proceeded to shoot water onto Queenie three times. Queenie thought once was enough but there was some miscommunication between our guide, the handler and the elephant. It was OK though since it was a hot day Queenie was dry by the time the ride finished. Queenie at the end of it really enjoyed the whole experience.
Riding the Elephant
As you saw in the video, the elephant is mounted in the water. Basically you step on the handlers knee and then jump onto the elephant. There is a rope which you have to hold. Once mounted on the elephants back and once you found your balance, the elephant stands up which is probably the most difficult time to keep your balance. After that it is pretty basic. It is easy to balance on the broad back of the elephant and I didn't even need to hold onto the rope. It should be noted that this is a bareback ride as MEF maintains that any saddle on the back of the elephant causes injury to the animal. I thought it was comfortable enough and riding on the skin of the elephant made it far more authentic I thought.
Once on the elephant, the elephant leaves the river with its handler walking next to the animal and the guide that is taking pictures and videos. The area near the river was really cool and we were concerned it would be much hotter after we left the river but the road was covered most of the way.
Out of the river you go on a tour of the estate on which the MEF is located. The estate is tree covered for the most part and the gentle breeze through the trees made the temperature bearable. It was an amazing experience to be on an elephant ambling through the trees on the estate. We enjoyed every minute of the ride.
The estate itself (as you saw in the video and in the pictures) was gorgeous with lots of vegetation everywhere. The great think for Sitha is that she could snack at will with her long trunk. Whenever she felt like a bite she would just rip out some vegetation next to the side of the road and eat on the move. I am sure she would have preferred to be doing her own thing in the forest but she was very tame and seemed to be happy with her snacks along the road. The handler and tour guide didn't seem too impressed though, but their displeasure didn't bother Sitha.
Along the way there were many opportunities to get good pictures of us on Sitha. It was great looking back at the pictures and seeing what a beautiful and wonderful animal we had the privilege of being so close to.
For some part of the ride we actually did come out onto the public road and we had tuk-tuks, motorcycles and a tractor come past us. The elephants are used to the traffic and the noise and Sitha wasn't startled by the sound. She just ambled down the road at her own leisurely pace while we sat atop and enjoyed.
Towards the end of the trail the elephant goes down onto an open field. The ride ends at an elevated platform so getting off the elephant is really easy. The platform is high so you just step off the elephant.
Once off the elephant you have a great opportunity to take a picture with the elephant smiling. Sitha gave us an awesome smile at the end of the ride.
Overall the ride was a fantastic experience and is very popular. I should say though that while there were some tourists there, we didn't have to wait long at all to get a ride on the elephants. Maybe we just got lucky, I don't know, but we bought the tickets, went in and were with the elephants within 10 minutes. Really good that it was so quick. Although we didn't have to wait there were other tourists, many of them came from Eastern Europe. We also met some Taiwanese tourists we had previously met in Colombo.
The MEF is Great
Overall the experience was wonderful. The MEF really seems to take care of their animals, the elephants there looked to be in fantastic condition. Safety for both the visitors, the handlers and the animals is taken very seriously. We wouldn't hesitate in recommending this place for tourists to visit to ride the elephant. All-in-all we had a wonderful experience there and it contributed to the rich tapestry of experiences we had in Sri Lanka overall.