The Sad Truth Behind Volunteering With Elephants In Sri Lanka

Everyday we get questions about our award-winning Sri Lanka Wild Elephant Conservation programme and it gets compared to many other apparently similar projects offered by other organisations in the United Kingdom.

We thought that we would write some information to clear up some misconceptions about elephant programmes in Sri Lanka and to hopefully educate you and to put a stop to the animal cruelty that goes on everyday by volunteers!

It is quite a long article so I thought I would highlight the main points here, to encourage you to read on and to make an educated choice when looking to volunteer with these magnificent gentle giants.

  • It is NOT a legal requirement for elephants to be chained in Sri Lanka (never has and never will be!)
  • The projects we mention below only exist to generate profits and continue to exploit these poor elephants
  • On most programmes elephants are constantly chained and cannot move a SINGLE step – pure torture
  • They contribute absolutely nothing to the conservation of Asian elephants
  • Volunteer programmes are promoted by reputable and well known companies based in the United Kingdom

There is mass cruelty that goes on in Sri Lanka everyday with elephants being a major religious symbol as well as showing someone’s importance and wealth. This is a very big problem that is rooted deep in Sri Lankan culture, something we will find hard to change in the near future.

What we do know that we can change today, is that by you reading this you can help to stop the continued exploitation by unknowing volunteers and potentially yourself. Make sure that you properly research all of the projects you are interested in, ask lots of questions and ensure that your time volunteering and the money you donate goes to a worthwhile cause!

The programmes that we are talking about are being promoted by large reputable organisations based here in the United Kingdom that you will have no doubt heard of.

The majority of these elephant projects or experiences state that they are helping the elephants and that they have been rescued from abusive backgrounds. Nine times out of ten they have actually been stolen from the wild at a young age to generate massive profits for their new owners.

These projects claim to now be helping elephants but are in fact just carrying on the major exploitation that the poor animals have experienced their whole life.

Being chained all day without being able to move a SINGLE step just so volunteers can get up close to touch, feed and wash them in a river is in no way helping them at all!

On some of the programmes we have personally experienced, the elephant is chained on both their front and back legs to trees either side. They can barely pick their leg up of the ground and are unable to move anywhere.

Imagine being tied up all day and all night without being able to move or even stretch your legs. You can see around their legs where the chains have started to wear down through their flesh, with some cases of it even reaching the bone.

Not only is this pure physical torture, but elephants are very intelligent animals that need vast lands to explore and roam. They need constant stimulation and interaction with other elephants and animals to live a normal life – something they don’t get at all on these projects. You will see the elephants swaying back and forth which is a clear indicator of stress.

The Mahouts (elephant carers) are constantly getting the elephants to do something and if they disobey will stab them with their bullhooks – a very painful experience!

The mahouts do their best to assert their authority by stabbing the elephants in inconspicuous places to try and hide their abusive life. On our visits though, there were many clear signs of constant and severe stab wounds and on multiple occasions it being done right in front of us! We could see the discomfort and pain the elephant felt and it really was a distressing situation.

Many organisations and local teams have a great story to be told about each elephant that can be very convincing. You will constantly hear how it is a legal requirement for the elephants to be chained, that they have been rescued from very abusive lives and that some of their elephants are 80+ years old! I’m afraid nine times out of ten this is simply untrue.

As with all animals that are kept in captivity, there is of course a duty of care to the general public and their safety. It is very clear though that no company or person should own or rent an elephant unless they can provide suitable and large land where the elephants can roam freely. Strong stockades can be put in place to secure any land therefore negating the use of them being chained 24/7! At the end of the day it only comes to one simple motivation – money.

With most of the elephants being stolen from the wild at a very young age, no one actually knows the age of their elephants! So far it is unheard of in Sri Lanka for an elephant to live past 70 years old and even this is a very very rare scenario!

If you take a step back and actually think about it, it’s very clear what is going on. You cannot enrich an elephants life by contributing to this vicious industry and this scam as a whole is something we strongly believe against.

Together we can put a stop to this right now. Everyone of us can help change this, starting from today. Please do not fund these ventures by volunteering to apparently help the elephants and help spread the word about this terrifying trade.

I’m afraid we cannot go into detail about any specific company or programme and nor would we want to comment. This is by no way an attack on any organisation, we are just wanting to make everyone aware of the problems happening today in Sri Lanka and to try and educate everyone into making the correct decision.

One thing we do not want to do is to scare you into not volunteering and helping elephants in Sri Lanka. There is still a big problem and there are several brilliant and worthwhile programmes that need the support from people like you!

We offer an award-winning programme in the heart of Sri Lanka that works alongside wild elephants and the local community. You will get to experience these amazing gentle giants in their natural habitat and get to witness many memorable moments!

You can read lots more about our programme, see pictures and read reviews here.


February, 2018
This is so sad to read. I’m sure most volunteers believe they are helping. Please ensure we all spread the word and help stop this cruelty to these beautiful animals
February, 2018
Please! Be sure to share this article with everyone you know. Thank you!
Emma Pouton
February, 2018
This breaks my heart how can man be so cruel . carnt they not just let wild animals be free and ☺
February, 2018
Must be stopped and the information must be known by every one