Elephant Dietary Requirements: What do Elephants Eat?

  • An elephant eating

    Elephants are herbivores, and have a varied diet which includes grass, leaves, twigs, fruit and seed pods. They eat around one hundred to five hundred species of plants, and consume the whole plant – everything from the twigs to the roots. They particularly like tree bark, as it provides essential minerals, nutrients, and roughage to aid digestion. During the rainy season they will mostly eat grasses, but as these dry out they will move on to shrubs and fruit. In general though, African elephants eat more of the latter, while the Asian elephant eats much more grass.

    Getting to food

    The trunk is the major eating and drinking utensil. They use it to pluck items from plants or tear branches off, and as a straw to suck up water which they then spray into their mouths.  An elephant will also use its tusks to strip bark, dig up roots, or dig up the earth for salt. It’s not unknown for elephants to create large holes, and hollow out deep caverns with repeated digging. Hills have been carved out by them in India and Sumatra, and deep caverns in a mountain on the Ugandan border.

    Daily food and drink needs

    Elephants only digest about 40% of their food, and spend some 16 to 18 hours a day eating.  Indeed most of their time (nearly 80%) is spent either looking for, or eating food. An adult elephant consumes around 140 to 300 kg of vegetation, and drinks 30-50 gallons of water a day.

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