Get a look into what it’s like to volunteer abroad at an elephant nature park and work at an elephant sanctuary. Help save the elephants at Millennium Elephant Foundation. Join the elephant family and meet the Sri Lankan elephant – change your life and theirs with unique animal volunteering abroad.

Hi, my name is Charminder. Here at the Millennium Elephant Foundation 00:24 live domestic elephants.

We have domestic elephants. We give them medicine when it’s needed. I’ll tell you the story of this place. This elephant’s name is Raja. He’s about 43 years old now. This is Lakshmi, she’s a very special elephant because she has been in 30 films. A lot of people say Lakshmi is like a diva. She’s very special.

This is a new elephant, Menike, she’s about 40 years old now. This is a very old elephant. She’s 65 years old. Now she’s here, she’ll have medicine, vitamins and treatment, so she’ll get well. She’ll get better.

This elephant is called Rani. She’s about 29 years old. She came here when she was 25 years old. This is her keeper. Normally each elephant has one keeper. They come in the morning and spend about two hours cleaning. The elephants have a special language. It’s saying welcome to you. Welcome.

This elephant used to have a lot of problems. It had a foot abscess, and a lot of problems. But now it’s getting better. The owner of this elephant foundation is called Mr Samrasinghe.

Here are some volunteers – some come for a week, two weeks, three months. Where are you from?

I’m from New York

Where do you come from?

I’m from Belgium

It’s very much fun taking care of the babies, to clean and feed them

You can see the elephant having a “shower”. They shower like that.

This elephant is called Raja. Each elephant has one keeper, but Raja has two keepers. They speak a special language, now you can see. He told him “daha”, he told him to get up. Nobody else can do this, only the keepers.  Now he’s told him “uderi”, or “take water”. You can see he’ll take water and spray himself.

Normally we can’t get close to the elephants unless the keeper is there.

This is Mr Rowan, he’s the vet for this sanctuary. If any of the elephants have problems, he will give them medicine.

Elephants are big, and they need to eat a lot. They eat about 250kg a day. They eat coconut leaves, jack leaves… these are jack leaves. They also eat grass.

This is elephant poo. We use it as a fertiliser for our plants.

Here’s Mr Rowan, he’s the veterinary assistant here. He gives medicines to the elephants when they need it.

Usually we draw out about 100ml, which should be just enough for one bottle. You can’t see bubbles at the top yet, so keep shaking it. There’s a lot of powder in there.

This is Sumela, a 75 year old female elephant. When elephants get old, a common problem they get are pressure point wounds like this one. It’s caused by the friction of lying down and getting up when they’re wet. The bigger they are, the more effort it takes them to get up, and the back and forth movement they make when trying to do so can cause these types of wounds. There’s another one there. There was a very big wound on the other side as well. That has healed now.  This side is 95% ok. The other thing the elephants get are wounds on their feet. We can control these and help to heal these wounds. There was a very big wound here. Now all you can see is the mark. This is a very healthy elephant now. We help to clean their bodies. The main idea of this sanctuary is that – a home for elderly elephants. The main target is to look after elephants like this one.

Some elephants get very weak teeth when they get old, to the point that they cannot eat anymore. They can die of starvation. Here you can see the molars.

Some elephant owners cannot cope when their elephants get old. It’s very costly to look after an elephant, to pay for treatments, to heal wounds, to pay for medicines… they cost a lot of money. One elephant may need to take 60-70 tablets in one go. Here you can see the antibiotics – they’re very expensive.

We stop the elephant from sleeping here at night. We only allow it to sleep in the water because we’re worried about the wounds it has on both sides of its body.

Hi, I’m Jasundara. I work as a manager here at the Millennium Elephant Foundation. It’s a charity for elephants. There are sick elephants, old elephants, and young elephants. We started this place in 1979. After 1979 we ran this place as a business – elephant owners would send their elephants here for medical treatment. We provided it as a service. Sometimes European girls and boys like to come here to work as volunteers with the elephants. They spend two or three months here with the elephants. Visitors come too, when they come to see the elephants in the elephant orphanage. They stop here on their way there. Sometimes visitors will stop here for a brief visit and take a short ride on one of the elephants, or go in the water and wash the elephants. They buy a ticket which pays for an elephant ride and other things. We spend the majority of this money on medicine for the elephants, their food, and the mahouts’ (keepers) salaries. This is a map of Sri Lanka. These are the protected jungles. There are still 4,500 elephants living in these areas. We are here today. This is Colombo, the capital, the airport is near. Kandy is here. Domestic elephants only live in this area. They are used for transporting timber, festivals, wedding ceremonies, and things like that. There are only 220 domestic elephants in Sri Lanka. When they are sick, their owners send them here to be looked after.

Each elephant has a separate man, a traditional “mahout”. That’s our name for an elephant keeper. They keep one of these knives, because after 3.30-4pm, they go to the jungle or village area where there are trees, and they climb the tree and cut down 300kg of branches for the elephant to eat. They have a stick to control the elephant.

Elephant language. They understand this.

Mahouts are families in Sri Lanka. They are coming from families to families.

An elephant. Before a mahout becomes a mahout, they should work for at least two years as an assistant. In that time, they have to learn about the elephant body.

This is the traditional way of using elephants in festivals. This elephant is now here at the Millennium Elephant Foundation. He came here for treatment.

Elephants have four teeth. With this edge, they crush the food. This is the root. Elbows, and the kneecaps, heels. This is a real elephant skeleton. She was 72 years old, she came here as an old elephant. I invite all visitors to Sri Lanka, on your way to Kandy, we are near the elephant orphanage. You can feed the elephants, biscuits even, see the sick elephants, or take a small ride on one of the elephants.

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