What Elephants Eat In Captivity: High-quality Feed

Taking care of elephants requires careful planning and care. In today’s article you can learn more about what elephants eat in captivity.
What elephants eat in captivity: high-quality feed

When it comes to planning what elephants eat in captivity, it is extremely useful to understand their natural eating habits and also to have knowledge of what nutrients they need and when they need them. Elephants are also very picky, so it is important to be prepared to keep these epic mammals healthy.

In this article, we will discuss the elephants’ normal nutritional needs, as well as how poor diet can lead to serious health problems.

Basic ecology for the elephants’ eating habits

The natural diet of elephants is well documented for the three existing species of elephant: African savannah elephant, African forest elephant and the Asian elephant. But you need more information about the causes of selective eating habits and other feeding patterns.

Wild elephants have an abundant appetite and eat over 400 types of plants. Elephants’ diet consists mostly of grass, but they also eat leaves, twigs, roots, fruits, seeds, herbaceous plants, soil and stones. Despite this wide range of types of food, studies show that elephants are in fact quite picky.

Take the wet season as an example. Then the elephants abandon their former water manors and choose to go and graze. In other words, they mainly consume reeds and herbs during the time of year when their protein content is at its highest. Several studies show that elephants know exactly what they need at each season of the year.

Woman feeds elephants from a bowl.

Feeding schedule

Researchers have found similarities between wild elephants and elephants in captivity. There are three feeding times that elephants like best :

  • Morning: Fast feeding with small quantities.
  • Afternoon: Slower feed and copious amounts.
  • Evening: Relaxed flow that suits today’s needs.

Having to find water and shade will affect how much an elephant needs to eat. This applies to both elephants in captivity and wild elephants.

What are the nutritional recommendations for elephants?

Until more data are available, the minimum nutrient requirements for elephants are based on the recommended guidelines for horses. In other words:

  • High quality feed (hay, straw or grass) should be the basis of the elephants’ diet.
  • The remaining diet should consist of concentrated, supplementary feedings and dietary supplements.

However, available data, so-called “growth requirements”, prescribe that elephants should eat about 2.8 kilos of protein per day. If an elephant eats less than this amount, or eats low quality hay, it can develop protein deficiency and become ill. Concentrates balance vitamin deficiencies from a high-feed diet, but should in no way replace feed as the main source of fiber. Otherwise, the elephant may suffer from digestive problems.

Nevertheless, there may be certain occasions during an elephant’s life when it is appropriate to replace hay with alfalfa and increase the supplement. This may be necessary during pregnancy, for example.

What elephants eat in captivity: A typical meal

Captive elephants eat about 149 kilos of food a day. This diet would be insufficient for wild elephants, but elephants in captivity use significantly less energy, and therefore need less food.

To achieve the necessary daily calorie intake, meals should include:

  • As we mentioned earlier, hay or other fodder should be the main source of nutrition.
  • A variety of vegetables and vegetation, such as acacia, cucumber, lettuce, etc.
  • Large amounts of water.

What do elephants eat in captivity? How can an elephant’s diet affect its health?

Taking care of elephants in captivity is neither easy nor cheap. With that said , animal keepers are trying to optimize the health of their elephants to improve the elephants’ well-being and, as a result, also improve their lifespan.

Elephant eats from a tree.

Unfortunately, captive animals tend to suffer from health problems such as obesity due to lack of exercise. This often happens because their enclosures are too small or, even worse, because they feel isolated and understimulated.

Intestinal issues are also a major health problem that many veterinarians take part in. However, basing the elephant’s diet on high quality hay is the best way to combat this. It is not recommended to feed elephants with fruit, grains, bread or “human food” as these foods can be harmful to the elephant’s health.


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