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A peaceful home for elderly elephants

Chaminda: “I’m a guide for the Millennium Elephant Foundation, where we train and take care of domesticated elephants, most of which are older than 45 years.

Each elephant has a name, a history. Lakshmi is the star of the foundation, the diva. She starred in almost 30 movies, and she can also draw and paint.

Each elephant has one keeper, called mahout. The mahout trains with the elephant for three years and learns a special language to give them commands: the “elephant language”.

The mahout is an ancient job, trained generation after generation. Elephants only do what their mahouts tell them to do, and people can get close to the elephants only with the mahouts.

Adult elephants consume about 250 Kilos of plants per day, especially grass, fruit, and jackfruit tree leaves”.

Ruan: “I’m the veterinarian of the Millennium Elephant Foundation. This place is like an elderly home where we treat sick and old elephants.

The most common problem concerning old elephants is pressure point wounds which come from when their bodies become too big and heavy, and they try to get up.

Another common problem for old elephants is the foot rot, an infection that develops when elephants don’t get enough exercise.

Elephants become very expensive after a while, especially for treatments and medicines, so sometimes the elephant owners can’t take care of them anymore.“

Jasundara: “I’m the manager of the Millennium Elephant Foundation, charity center founded in 1979.

Volunteers come here from all over the world. They stay and work with us for two or three months. Their activities involve washing the elephants early in the morning, working at the eco farm, and teaching English to poor children in the afternoon.

Visitors come to ride the elephants and, sometimes, they help the staff to wash them. They have a great time.

We cover most of the expenses with the ticket money that people pay to enjoy our activities. Most of the expenses for the foundation concern medicines and food for the elephants, mahout salaries, and taking care of the place.

The use of elephants in Sri Lanka goes back to 2500 years, when kings started using elephants in battle. Afterwards people started to use them for agriculture.

In Sri Lanka there are many protected jungles in which 4500 wild elephants live. Only about 200 domesticated elephants live with their owners in the south-western areas of the country, which are more populated. They are used mainly for festivals and to transport timber.

The elephant keeper, the mahout, always has a stick and a knife with him. The knife is to cut tree branches and brushes in the jungle so that he can feed the elephant, and the stick is to control the elephant using their special commands in the “elephant language”. In the afternoon, elephants also like to draw and paint.

The average lifespan for elephants is 70-75 years. Many elephants die because they lose their teeth as they get old, so they can’t eat anymore.

Our foundation has a Mobile Veterinary Unit which provides free medical assistance for wild and domesticated elephants in the country. If elephants are sick and need specific assistance, our unit will transport them back to the foundation where they will receive treatment.”


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