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What Do Elephants Eat?

Written by: Akeem Eletu
Last updated on:
image of elephants

Elephants are the biggest mammals in the jungle. These wild animals are so big that some natural predators avoid them because of  their size. They live in two continents: Africa and Asia.  In Asia, you can find them in India, Thailand, Cambodia and a few other Southeastern Asian countries. In Africa, they live in the sub-Saharan region.

Elephants drink up to 52 gallons of water in a day. They can hold up to 2.5 gallons of water in their trunk! But what do elephants eat? 

This article discusses what elephants eat and their food choices. 

What Do Elephants Eat?

Elephants are herbivores. They eat grass. An elephant’s diet consists mostly of plants and shrubs. Their flat teeth help them grind shrubs, herbs, and even tree bark for food. 

They eat anything that they can find. 

African elephants migrate often and can roam up to 15 miles in a single day. They graze as they walk about in groups. They also prefer to stay in regions with food and water. Rarely are they found in water scarce areas. 

They eat small plants. They also eat bananas, food crops, tubers, and roots. But the food availability determines their diet.

African elephants eat savannah grasses because they live in Sub Saharan Africa, where the grasses are widespread with only a few groups of trees. Asian elephants live in thick forests, which is why African elephants have bigger bodies and ears than Asian elephants. 

Asian elephants eat more than African elephants do. They eat local crops, prickly pear, bamboo trees, and leaves.

What Do African Elephants Eat?

They are two types of African elephants:  the African Bush Elephants and the African Forest Elephants which are both herbivores.

The only difference between them is their physical appearance. Their diet mainly consists of forest trees, tree bark, tree branches, tree leaves, bushes, grass, and fruits. 

While the African Bush Elephant, also known as the larger Savannah elephant, eats more grass and tree bark because it does not live in forests as with the smaller forest elephant, which thrives in the Central and West African equatorial forest.

They eat grass from the long grasslands. Unlike many other animals that fall within the herbivore category, elephants need a huge amount of food daily to keep up with their dietary needs. They eat tree bark, savannah grasses, fruits in the wild, flowers, and even local crops. 

Some specific food on the African elephant menu includes the vegetation that grows in sub-Saharan Africa. You may often find trees fallen along bush paths. The damage may look like there was heavy machinery in the area, but in reality, elephants chew on entire trees. 

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What Do Asian Elephants Eat?

image of Asian Elephant

Asian elephants are mostly found in India and other southeastern asian countries. They spend more than half a day eating. 

Foods they eat include small plants, grass, roots, and leaves. Indian elephants can eat large amounts of one tree bark. They spend most of their time browsing trees for leaves, and they strip bark of trees when they like. 

They also eat sugar cane, bananas, and other food they come across. 

An adult elephant can ravage an entire season of food crops in one night! And they eat local crops in addition to forest plants.

How Much Do Elephants Eat?

Elephants are herbivorous animals. The African elephant eats as much as 660 pounds per day. An Indian elephant eats about 330 pounds of food a day. 

A human can only eat as much as 4 pounds of food a day.  A human would have to eat no less than 4 pounds, 82 times a day, to match the small Indian elephant.

Elephants do not sleep much. They spend most of their time foraging for food options in large quantities. 

What Do Baby Elephants Eat?

Baby elephants, called calves, have big appetites. A baby elephant stays with its mother for its first few months of life and relies on her for food.

After birth,  they live on breast milk from their mothers since their baby teeth are not fully developed to strip bark from trees.

They live on milk for as long as 24 months. They consume up to 3 gallons of breast milk every day. 

At birth, baby elephants are born with four molars. These molars are developing baby teeth which they lose in some 24 months. 

At 4 months old, they begin to sample other foods that adult elephants eat. But they continue to feed on their mother’s breast milk which they feed on for up to a decade!

These calves, at first, are usually clueless about how to use their trunks. 

Do not be surprised if you find baby elephants swinging their trunks aimlessly and even stepping on them. So they feed more on breast milk. They begin to gain control of their trunks at about 6-8 months after birth. This is when they start using the trunk for bathing, moving things, and, most importantly, eating. 

Another shocking fact about the diet of baby elephants is that they eat their mother’s dung. 

Usually, the males go about solitarily after they reach maturity. But the calves stay with their mothers, who usually lead the herd. Baby elephants eat their mother’s dung while transitioning from breast milk to vegetation. 

A baby elephant will eat its mother’s poop to obtain the necessary bacteria that it needs to aid the digestion of the food it eats. This practice is done by baby koalas, giant pandas, and hippos. 

It is important for the proper functioning of their digestive tracts because they are born with sterile intestines which do not contain the bacteria needed for the proper digestion of the vegetation in their habitat. If they do not eat their mother’s dung to obtain these digestion-aiding bacteria, they will not benefit nutritionally from the plants they eat.

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Do Elephants Eat Soil?

image of Elephant Eats Soil

As strange as it may sound, elephants eat dirt. They do this in the dry seasons when their habitat experiences drought. 

During the dry season in Africa, droughts can go on for months during vegetations are scarce, and elephants have to find other ways to get the nutrients they need to survive. 

In such trying times, elephants churn the earth with their tusks. Then they dig with their trunks to create deep caverns in the earth. This helps them obtain salt, calcium, and minerals lacking in their soil diet.

This also helps other wildlife species dig in and enjoy other benefits.

How Do Elephants Eat?

The elephant diet usually consists of large vegetation matter. Leaves, twigs, tree bark, and even small plants are eaten in large volumes. 

Elephants eat with the help of their trunks. They rake up and vacuum these food materials into a pile and squeeze them into a solid block of food that the trunk can pick. They use their trunks to move the large volume of food into their mouth to begin digestion. 

To digest their food, elephants drink water by sucking it from water pools and spraying the water into their mouth. But the trunk does more than help them drink. 

They also stay clean with the trunk. They suck up water and spray their bodies with it.  They use their trunks to blow the dust off their bodies. 

Final Thoughts

Elephants are herbivores that enjoy fruits such as bananas, prickly pear, and other wild items. Apart from protection, they also use their tusks to pull trees for eating. Their feeding habits are greatly determined by the different regions they live in.

Although they use their trunks for smelling, breathing, and holding water for different purposes, their trunks are one of the most useful body parts they use for feeding.

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