African elephant eating in Kenya _ Image by Christopher Chilton

What do Elephants Eat? - The Elephant Diet

African Elephant and Asian Elephant Diet

Elephant diet facts:

  • Adult elephants eat over 300 pounds of brush and vegetation in a single day.
  • Around 80% of an elephant's day is spent feeding.
  • Elephants can consume 50 gallons of water on average daily in the wild.
  • A favorite food of both Asian and African elephants is tree bark.
  • Elephants will often dig with their tusks to obtain salt and minerals to supplement nutrients.

 

(African Elephant eating in Kenya - Image by Christopher Chilton from Pixabay)

(African Elephant enjoying lunch in Kenya - Image by Christopher Chilton from Pixabay
 

It's no secret that elephants can eat a lot of food. They are after all, the world's largest animal with a massive body to sustain and therefore they must consume a sufficient amount of food to stay alive. From brush to fruits, their diets consist of many unique items, some of which you may not expect. So what do elephants really eat? And is the diet of the African elephant the same as the Asian elephant? In this article, we're going to explore the unique diet of each of these beautiful elephant species and find out. Let's get started.

Photo by Filip Olsok from Pexels 
Elephant baby grazing with Mom - Photo by Filip Olsok from Pexels
 

What is an African elephant?

To start, African elephants are the largest land animals in the world, even compared to other elephant species. These elephants typically live throughout the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa as well as the rainforests of Central and West Africa. They are also considered to be one of the most essential animals in their regions, as their lifestyle greatly influences the habitat of those around them. For example, African elephants are known to dig up areas in the ground with their tusks in the dry season for water, which all wildlife in the surrounding ecosystem will certainly benefit from. Not to mention, they also make paths for animals to get through by simply eating and knocking down trees when browsing for food. Ream more about their landscaping skills in our blog about "Four Reasons the Environment needs Elephants".

 
African Elephant Eating - Photo by Yolanda, pixabay
(African Elephant eating - Photo by Yolanda, pixabay.com)
 

African Elephant Diet

When it comes to their diet, African elephants are natural herbivores, meaning that they only eat plant-based foods. Since they mainly search for food in forests due to the lack of grasslands in Africa, trees, twigs, and barks are a personal favorite and make up around 70% of their diet. Some studies show that the African elephant on average, feeds on over 300 different types of plant species. That basically means that if there's something green and leafy around, you can bet that the African elephant will snatch it up. However, the African elephant also feeds on grass, mineral lick, and a large portion of fruit. Their diet depends entirely on the region they are in and resources availability.

What is an Asian elephant?

Asian elephant with baby elephant Thailand_Photo by Katie Hollamby 
(Photo by Katie Hollamby from Pexels)

Asian elephants are considered the largest land mammals in Asia while still being slightly smaller than African elephants. Asian elephants are typically found in isolated areas of India and Southeast Asia but have been known to wander with their herd further. A few distinct features of the Asian elephant include its skin color that varies from brown to gray and its pink-colored spots on its ears, forehead, chest, and trunk. Asian elephants also typically have smaller, rounder ears than African elephants. Read more about the differences between African and Asian Elephants.

 Asian elephants grazing in the wild - Photo by pen_ash, pixabay
(Asian elephants grazing in the wild - Photo by pen_ash, pixabay.com)
 

Asian Elephant Diet

When it comes to the food choice of Asian elephants, they are also natural-born herbivores who feed on plants and vegetation alike. Since Asian elephants typically live on grasslands, much of their diet consists of a variety of different grasses. However, other major components of the Asian elephant diet also typically consist of leaves, roots, bark, twigs, and bushes. In dry regions, Asian elephants may also eat thorn bushes and woody plants. Asian elephants also spend nearly ¾ of their day gathering food to sustain their massive bodies. This is because it is believed that around only 44% of the food they eat is processed by their bodies, leaving them needing to consume more. The Asian elephant also rarely stray far from a source of water, as these land animals must consume an enormous amount of water to keep up with how much they are consuming.

 

What about Baby Elephant Diets?

Baby elephants have stomachs that are not capable of digesting the food that adult elephants eat, so they drink their mother's milk for nutrition. Baby elephants if not separated from their mothers, drink their mother's milk for about two years and sometimes up to ten years. Baby elephants normally drink about three gallons of milk a day. You can also see that baby elephants who are rescued from the wild as orphans or for other reasons will be fed a special milk formula to help their bodies obtain the nutrients they need to survive. Like human babies, there is a transition time where baby elephants start to introduce foods to their diets other than milk, this happens around four months old. At this stage, baby elephants start to eat plants while still drinking their mother's milk. Also, during this transition period, don't be surprised if you see a baby elephant eating its mother's dung. Baby elephants may eat their herd's dung to establish healthy bacteria in their guts to assist with breaking down and digesting the plant matter that they eat. You can read more about baby elephants in one of our most popular blog posts " Why Do Baby Elephants Suck on their Trunks?"

Baby elephant drinking milk - Image by Alex Strachan from Pixabay
Baby elephant drinking milk at a sanctuary - Image by Alex Strachan from Pixabay

 

In conclusion, when it comes to the elephant diet, whether it is an Asian or African elephant, their choice in food varies greatly. From twigs to bark, all elephant species seem to have two things in common: they love vegetation, and they love to eat. For that reason, don't be surprised if you hear about an elephant browsing for food for up to 18 hours a day, as they are large, beautiful animals with a massive and impressive appetite that they must compensate for.

Thank you for reading our elephant blog, we hope you enjoyed this piece about elephant diets. Join our newsletter for more interesting stories and elephants facts. 


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