I have been doing a lot of research into our trip to Sri Lanka in a few months time and as Elephants are one of my loves in life, I thought I'd do my research into where to go and what to expect when we get there.
In Sri Lanka elephants are venerated and represent wisdom and strength. More than 5800 elephants live in the wild there and nowhere is Asia can you see them in such great numbers as in Sri Lanka (especially in the Minneriya, Kaudulla and Uda Walawe National Parks). Only 150 animals are used as working elephants too which makes me feel a lot better about being so obsessed with meeting one. It is considered an honourable deed to either lend or donate strong elephants to the monasteries for their main processions; more than 50 animals take part in the famous Kandy Perahera, so I am sure they'll be happy to lend me one for a cuddle. However, their natural habitats are threatened and this - along with their love for bananas, rice and sugar cane - has led to them regularly invading large fields and gardens. In attempts to drive them out, around 50 people and marauding pachyderms lose their lives each year... maybe I'll leave that cuddle for another time then, yeah.
I have learnt recently that in general, Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants which I'd never really thought about before. Females are usually smaller than males too and have short or no tusks. Wikipedia tells me that Sri Lankan elephants are the largest subspecies reaching a shoulder height of between 2 and 3.5 m (6.6 and 11.5 ft), weigh between 2,000 and 5,500 kg (4,400 and 12,100 lb), and have 19 pairs of ribs... random fact right there. Their skin colour is also darker with larger and more distinct patches of depigmentation on their ears, face, trunk and belly. Only 7% of males bear tusks and according to the elephant census conducted in 2011 by the Wildlife Conservation Department of Sri Lanka, only 2% of the total population are tuskers. See I have always assumed that all elephants have tusks. I feel happier knowing that as surly without tusks there is less chance of poachers killing them for Ivory.
I also read that Sri Lankan elephants are somewhat diminutive when compared with historical accounts dating back to 200 BC and with photographs taken in the 19th century during the time of colonial British rule of the island. The smaller size could possibly be the end result of a long-continued process of removing the physically best specimens from the potential breeding-stock through hunting or domestication though which makes me a bit sad.
Places to visit Elephants in Sri Lanka...
Famously the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala is your obvious tourist choice if you want to see some baby elephants on your trip, however there are a few other options lesser known to the average tourist.
The Millennium Elephant Foundation is a camp a few miles away from the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala and it offers rides on the grey giants as well as a very interesting museum. Entrance is daily from 8.30am-5pm and the entrance fee is 1000 SLRs (just over £5) with ride from 2000 SLRs (just over £10) for 15 minutes.
The Elephant Transit Home near the Una Walawe National Park is a perfect place to visit the young animals and is much cheaper to do so than the orphanage at only 500 SLRs(£2.50). They also care for orphaned elephants before returning them to their natural habitat when they are around 4 years old. However you need to time your trip right as it's only possible to visit them for around 20 minutes at their feeding times: 9am, noon and 3pm. As it is so close to the National Park it is a great combination day out though so look into it.