Sadly, despite its original, and very laudable, aims, increasing concerns have been raised over the past few years about the treatment of Pinnewala’s resident elephants, including repeated allegations of systematic animal cruelty – many visitors feel that Pinnewala is now not so much an orphanage as a zoo (or circus) in which the money-grubbing antics of the resident mahouts completely overshadow the welfare of the increasingly malnourished and mistreated elephants they are supposed to be caring for. Various malpractices have been described, including the inappropriate chaining of elephants and excessive use of the elephant goad (ankus), the hooked metal tool used to train and control elephants – in 2011 one of the orphanage’s largest male elephants died after apparently being repeatedly stabbed with an ankus. Serious concerns have also been raised about the practice of donating elephants from the orphanage to various temples and other organizations or individuals, with a large proportion of donated elephants, it is alleged, being abused, and sometimes dying, after their transfer into private ownership.

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