What Elephants Eat

All elephants are herbivores and can spend 16 hours a day eating   Elephants feed mainly on roots, grass, leaves, fruit and bark,  As they digest only about 40% of what they eat, they need to consume large volumes of food. Elephants in the wild are most active at dusk and dawn, and typically sleep at night (accumulating only about four hours a night, either while standing or lying down). Younger elephants can consume approximately 80 – 90 kg a day, however as they get bigger they can consume as much as 150 kg a day.

Appropriate levels of Vitamin E are essential to muscle function in elephants.  Low Vitamin E can lead to muscle weakness, can affect reproduction and other medical related issues.   It is generally considered that elephants should have Vitamin E levels in the blood of around 0.5 -1 ug/ml. Zinc supplements may be needed to ensure normal immune function and biotin supplements have been shown to improve foot health.

Suggested feeding

Elephants in captivity must be offered a balanced diet composed of an appropriate variety of food items provided in quantities that are sufficient to maintain appropriate body condition.

  • Grass hay with an Acid Detergent Fibre content of > 30% (to avoid colic) should be provided to elephants and can be mixed with legume hays.
  • All hay feed should be of high quality, properly dried and regularly assessed for nutritional content. Hays that are dusty, mouldy, or infested with poisonous plants or insects, or other dangerous substances should never be used.
  • Concentrated pellets provide a nutritionally complete diet and can be offered in addition to hay.
  • Pellets should be high in fibre and low in starch.
  • To avoid digestive upsets, the introduction of pellets into the diet should be gradual (increasing slowly over two weeks), and the amount fed should be appropriate to need but should not exceed 50% of total dietary dry matter  
  • Other food items like bamboo, banana and cocos palm and an array of fresh fruit and vegetables such as pineapples, melons, bananas can be provided.
  • Elephants should be given ample access to fresh, potable water daily

Providing browse for elephants increases foraging time, can add important nutritional benefits, and can promote dental health. Supplementation of elephant diet with vitamin E is recommended to avoid problems with reproduction, anaemia and muscle disease among others.

Browse, consisting of foliage from shrubs and trees, is eaten in the wild and should be provided in captivity as it keeps elephants busy for hours as they strip off the bark, eat the leaves and chew on the wood. Logs and branches should be provided whenever possible, but should be from species "approved" for elephant consumption. Altering the way in which food is presented is one of the most effective ways to keep elephants busy. This can involve varying feeding times, offering different portion sizes and scattering different food items around the enclosure. The latter encourages elephants to move around and explore their surroundings, and is similar to foraging in the wild. Simulating browsing from trees using hay nets or foliage suspended above the elephant's head, are useful ways to keep animals happy. To feed from these nets, the elephants must concentrate on manoeuvring their trunks (burning energy and sharpening senses), and are only able to pull down small portions at a time.