Hello loves and happy Friday! It’s time to post our elephant post, I’ve been looking forward to write about this because it was really one of the best things I’ve done and it really touched my heart, so I’m very excited to share this little story with you about Nilame and the Elephant Freedom Project in Sri Lanka.
Elephants has always been one of my favourite animals, my one and only teddybear as a kid which I still have is an elephant and he’s called Bamse, anyways, so meeting a real elephant has always been something I really wanted to do. I saw a lot of them many years ago on a safari in South Africa with my family, but it was long time ago now. Before going on our trip to Sri Lanka I was researching a lot online after a good place to visit, I read a lot on forums and realised how bad most places treat the elephants, how they keep hundreds of them together in a small place, make them do tricks, work, keeping them chained or allowing tourists to ride on them. Finally I found the Elephant Freedom Project, read about them on their website and decided to go and visit!
So what is the Elephant Freedom Project? It is a project run by a small family who try to save the elephants from working on wood logging or the riding industry. Right now they are taking care of the elephant Nilame who used to be a riding elephant, because of this he has a hurt foot (you can see that one of his foot is bigger than the other) and big scars on his back and they have been treating him since then. At the Elephant Freedom Project he has a happy life where he spends time with his mahout who he became very close with in just some months, you can see how they both love and understand each other. When you visit Nilame you have to pay 5500 LKR which is around 29 euros and help them save up to rescue more elephants. In Sri Lanka you can’t buy elephants so they have to rent him from his owner, convincing him to keep Nilame at their project instead of somewhere else where he is treated badly. While posting some of these photos on my Instagram account I got some questions about why the mahout is holding a stick or a bullhook, the reason he has one is not to make Nilame to do tricks, it is because of the Sri Lankan law, they are not allowed to take care of the elephant without it. The mahout never uses the stick but has to have it for emergency when there are visitors, elephants are the biggest animals on land and one wrong step or accident can go very wrong. Another concern is that Nilame is chained at night, this is also something that the owners of the Elephant Freedom Project are sad about, but the real owner of Nilame won’t rent him out unless he is chained at night, he is scared that Nilame will hurt himself while working around in the enclosure during night, that’s his restriction and they can’t do anything about it. So in the end it is either to let Nilame be chained at night or to let him return to the riding industry. I hope I cleared this out well, but you can read more about it on their website.
The project is placed in Kegalle, about one hour away from Kandy, we booked our day trip in advance on their website, you can either choose a half day in the morning, in the afternoon, a full day or to volunteer for 1, 2 or 3 weeks. We booked a half day in the afternoon which was from 13.15 until 17.00. We had also booked a ride from and back to Kandy which you can also book on their website. You can also sleep over at their property, visit the school to help learn english, help with cooking or visit the dung paper factory.
When we arrived we were welcomed in their house where we had some Sri lankan coffee and had a welcome and safety talk, to our surprise it was only me and Klemens there that afternoon, together with the coordinator and the mahout of course. Afterwards it was time to meet Nilame. He was already down by the lake together with his mahout, Nilame was laying down getting scrubbed with a coconut shell looking like he enjoyed a tropical spa! I was amazed by how big he is and was a bit scared in the beginning when they let me wash him myself. What do I do, does it hurt on him, what if he gets scared? They all told me I should relax, the skin of an elephant is really thick and its necessary to scrub hard with the coconut shell to take away all the parasites that collects on his body. It was a lot of fun, we were scrubbing and scrubbing and splashing water on him while Nilame was chilling and smiling in the water. When we were done he stood up and washed himself with water that he sucked up with his trunk and threw over himself, he’s so beautiful!
After we were done with the cleaning we went for a walk around the neighbour hood and up to a big field where he found a place to eat grass, little plants and tree foliage, a grown up elephant can eat up to 300 kg of food per day, and spend 80% of the day eating. That’s a crazy amount of time! So there we were, watching him eat and learning from our coordinator called Kasun all about Nilame and elephants in general, it was very interesting and I’m more and more impressed by these big creatures. When Nilame was done eating we walked back, by the way, elephants are leaders and want to walk in front, so we were all walking behind him, except for one photo we did quickly and had quite some distance from him (thanks Kasun for being such a good photographer), just wanted to make that clear. When we arrived to the road it was time to say good bye to Nilame and the mahout and went over to the dung paper factory where yes, they make paper out of elephant dung, but more about that in another post.
As a conclusion this was a wonderful experience, we got to know Nilame more, got an insight of how the Elephant Freedom Project works and appreciate what they do to save more and more elephants. If you’re in Sri Lanka I definitely recommend you to visit this place and support these kind of projects instead of the riding or logging industry. This is a small family run project and need all the support and love possible. The bigger it gets, the more elephants they can save :)
Lots of love xx Mikuta + Klemens