Six kilometres off the Colombo-Kandy road is Pinnawala orphanage, a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Against a backdrop of thick jungle and rocky outcrops the animals go about their business like silent giants.
Twice a day they bathe in the nearby Ma Oya River. It is a fascinating spectacle as fully grown adults, adolescents and shy calves stand in line and wait for the mahouts’ signal, before setting off on a slow lumber through Pinnawala village to the water. Trumpeting and splashing sounds echo around the banks as the calm river is turned into an elephant-fuelled tempest.
They spend two hours in the Ma Oya. In this environment it is much easier to see their individual personalities: the desires of the bulls, the mothering instincts of the cows and the playful juvenility of the calves; the younger trouble makers and less sociable adults. Evidence of their troubled past is also visible – one elephant has no ears, and several have old scars and broken tusks.