How Much Does an Elephant Eat?

An elephant takes in a meal at Elephant’s World, Thailand. PHOTO: Jay Simpson

An elephant takes in a meal at Elephant’s World, Thailand. PHOTO: Jay Simpson

Our love for pachyderms has found multiple expressions on this blog. With us now journeying with Asian Oasis in Thailand and Kerala as home, this love links our efforts in both these lands, serving as common ground for all that we hope to do in tandem with nature. For all that we’ve penned on elephants, we’ve not stopped to think what or rather how much food keeps their giant souls (and stomachs) happy.

Both captive and wild elephants eat a lot, but what else would you expect from one of the largest land animals on the planet? Wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) can spend an average of 16-18 hours of every day eating. In the wild they forage for food, constantly searching for roots, small trees, bamboo, grasses, and any other edible plants.

National Geographic reports from Thailand:

To figure out what it takes to feed captive elephants, I headed to Elephant’s World, a sanctuary for elephants in Western Thailand. They take care of 21 elephants, all of which are orphans, elderly, or disabled. Sitting around the dinner table with their staff, I asked them if anyone could guess what one day’s worth of food for an elephant looked like if it was all piled together. No one knew—they were all too busy feeding all the elephants every day.

So we hatched a plan for the following day: to recruit as many of the daily visitors and staff as possible to work for over two hours collecting and piling all the food together to feed a single elephant.

To make our “Elephant Buffet” menu, we decided to base all of our calculations on one elephant: Kamoon, an older female that has been at Elephant’s World since it opened in 2008. She was born in 1949 and spent many years begging on the streets of various major Thai cities and working at trekking camps for tourists. She also has notably wide hips and a dependable appetite.

Elephants eat roughly 10 percent of their bodyweight in food every day, so to start, we knew we needed about 360 kg (nearly 800 lbs!) of food for our lucky 3,500 kg (7,700 lb!) elephant. And while all the elephants forage for wild food (bamboo, leaves, grasses, tree bark, etc) from 6pm-7am daily, we would only be photographing the food provided by keepers for the elephants. In the end, the menu came to:

Bana Grasses 30kg (66lbs)
Banana Trees 30kg (66lbs)
Watermelons 30kg (66lbs)
Cucumbers 30kg (66lbs)
Bananas 30kg (66lbs)
Pumpkins 30kg (66lbs)
Yam Beans / Sweet Potato 30kg (66lbs)
Corn 30kg (66lbs)
Pineapples 30kg (66lbs)
Papaya 30kg (66lbs)
(Wild Foods) 60kg (132lbs)
TOTAL 360kg (794lbs)

Read more here.

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