MILLENNIUM ELEPHANT FOUNDATION
Millennium Elephant Foundation is an organization and charity set up to rescue and care for captive Asian elephants in Sri Lanka. The foundation is situated on a 15-acre estate by the name of Samaragiri, which is located 10 km northwest of Kegalle, within the Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka.
Millennium Elephant Foundation, which has been home to the Samarasinghe family and their elephants for many generations, was first opened to the public as the Club Concept Elephant Bath in 1979 by Sam Samarasinghe (1931-1991), a dedicated animal lover. After Samarasinghe's death in August 1999, MEF was founded in his memory with the assistance of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (Now known as World Animal Protection), and unveiled as a sanctuary possessing proper caretaking facilities and medical services for captive elephants. MEF strives to improve the care and treatment of Sri Lankan elephants whilst increasing awareness about the crippling conditions many of them face throughout the country. The foundation remains the only certified non-profit organization working with captive elephants in Sri Lanka today.
Tourists can observe and walk with the elephants at MEF as well as assist with their daily washing in the Kuda Oya River that runs through the grounds. The funds generated from both visitors and volunteers is used to maintain the elephants well-being, and to enable the care and rescue of more captive elephants. MEF ensures that it strictly abides by the guidelines set by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.
Since its inception, MEF has cared for more than 80 elephants. As of 2022, there are nine elephants, spanning in age from 15 to 53 years, under the care of the sanctuary. Pooja, one of the resident elephants, was the first elephant in the country to be born in captivity. MEF also runs the Footsteps Elephant Consultancy, the only mahout training program to be recognized and accredited by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife.
WHAT WE DO?
MEF identifies mistreated elephants and subsequently works to relocate them onto the sanctuary grounds, a process that involves paying the elephant owners a monthly wage. The organization then covers all medical, food bills, and a salary for the mahout. The elephant owners are not obligated to cover any of the costs, as many of them turn to MEF when they are no longer capable of coping with the immense expenses required by keeping an elephant. The average daily expenditure on an elephant amounts to around 7000 rupees, over $50. Many of the elephants are recovered from the logging industry, within which poor living and working conditions can cause tusk injuries, potentially resulting in breakages, nerve damage, and gum disease. The other elephants MEF rescues come from the different ways in which elephants are kept in captivity in Sri Lanka: elephants that individual people keep in their home gardens, temple-owned elephants which are often neglected when not used for religious purposes.
As of 2022, MEF has 9 elephants and 13 mahouts. A positive and productive working relationship is sought between each elephant and it's mahout from the moment the elephant arrives at the sanctuary. Every elephant has a night bed at which it is fed in the evening and In the morning, each elephant is bathed in the river throughout the day because of the hard skin they need to moisturize a lot . The food, which is delivered daily from off the premises, consists of coconut, kitul, and jackfruit bundles. Each elephant's daily consumption is counted and recorded to ensure that proper care and protocols are met.
Continuous efforts are made to ensure that each elephant's day and night beds are kept clean and proper health standards upheld. A daily veterinary check is carried out on each elephant which involves a foot sweep to check for foot rot, and the feeding of a vitamin dough ball containing all the vitamins and supplements each elephant requires. This process helps detect any medical concerns.
Early, and if further medical attention is required, the foundation maintains a close working relationship with Dr. Ashoka Dangolla, a senior veterinarian from the University of Peradeniya. This relationship has led to the establishment of a Mobile Veterinary Unit (MVU) that provides medical services for sick and injured elephants throughout the country.
In the afternoons, the elephants take part in enrichment activities. At this time, the elephants are taken to an open area (Free roaming area) where they have the chance to search for hidden baskets of fruit and roam around on their own. This provides a period of relaxation and play for the elephants, and allows them to socialize and develop relationships with each other.
The mahouts at MEF are comfortable with and knowledgeable in traditional methods of elephant training which involve the use of pressure points known as nila points and the ankus. The ankus is used to apply strong, clear pressure in very particular points that the elephant is trained to react to. When used correctly, the ankus does not cause the elephant any pain. However, MEF is developing a mahout training program meant to shift elephant training in Sri Lanka towards methodology based on positive reinforcement. The reinforcing stimulus used with elephants is a treat awarded after the elephant has successfully completed a verbal command given by the mahout.