What Do African Elephants Eat? – Complete Guide to African Elephant Diet

In this article we are going to tell you about the African elephant diet. African elephants are pure herbivores. They will eat leaves, fruits, and mineral lick. Elephants consume as much as 220 to 660 pounds of vegetation each day. While they use their long flexible trunk to bring down tree branches or pluck leaves, they use tusks to tear at branches. African elephants can cause real damage to the foliage—thereby preventing other herbivores to browse. Although the African elephant eat a lot they have an inefficient digestive system that can process only 40% of its food. Let us now discuss what do African elephants eat and drink in the wild.

What Do African Elephants Eat in the Wild?

African Forest Elephant Diet – What Do African Forest Elephants Eat?

The African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) feeds on a wide variety of leaves, barks, fruits, grass, and mineral lick. The elephant’s diet comprises a major portion of fruits. They will also disperse the seeds of few trees such as Omphalocarpum spp. and Balanites wilsoniana. That is why they are called forest elephants for they become the reason for the diversity of plants in the forest.

African forest elephants are thought to spread quite many species of plants and at fairly long distances. Depending on the region, African forest elephants have a varied diet. They mostly eat barks and leaves which make up 70% of the elephant’s diet.

Studies indicate that the African bush elephants feed on 307 different types of plants species. On the other hand, savanna elephants are more likely to rely on fruits. They have 72 species of fruits in their diet. Now let us see what do African bush elephants eat in the wild.

African Bush Elephant Diet – What Do African Bush Elephants Eat?

African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) are also called African savanna elephants. They have an herbivorous diet too. However their diet changes with the change in habitat. The elephants inhabiting grasslands, partial deserts, and forests are likely to consume shrubbery leaves, tree, and herbs. And those that occur in the shores of Lake Kariba are known to eat underwater plants.

They mostly eat barks and leaves which make up 70% of the elephant’s diet. Studies indicate that the African bush elephants feed on 307 different types of plants species.

Elephants use their four large teeth to chew the plants. Their molars grow up to 30 cm in length and measure up to 10 cm in width. As the elephants grow with age, the molars are replaced by the new teeth.

They lose their milk teeth at the age of 15 years. The third set of teeth is going to replace the second set at 40 years age. When elephants replace the third set of teeth they die of starvation.

what do african elephants eat
Sarah Vallance — National Geographic Your Shot

African bush elephants can consume as much as 500 pounds of vegetation a day. Most of them are defecated without proper digestion. They travel great distances and by doing so, elephants are able to digest large amount of food. Apart from consuming leaves, African bush elephants drink up to 190 liters of water each day.

The African savanna elephant is probably the most herbivorous of all land mammals. They are pure browsers. They will spend as much as 12 to 18 hours a day on feeding.

The African savanna elephant is probably the most herbivorous of all land mammals. They are pure browsers. They will spend as much as 12 to 18 hours a day on feeding. When the water becomes scarce, they will dig waterholes with their feet to take the water enough to drink.

Over the past few decades, the savanna elephants have been forced to rely on berries, vegetables, and grass. This happens due to climate change.  In dry seasons, elephants eat exposed roots, tree barks, small shrubs, small leaves, large branches, small twigs, and dry leaves.

It takes elephants 24 – 48 hours to digest the food but it usually depends on the quality of food available. Most African elephants prefer feeding on young leaves or trees for the mature vegetation is only 10 – 40% assimilable whereas the young leaves are 40 – 70% digestible.

Scientists believe that the African elephants likely feed on woody vegetation only in drought seasons. However when the water is available elephants largely rely on grass which makes scientists to believe why African elephants prefer choosing open grasslands as their natural habitat.

References & Further Reading

“African Elephant”. bioweb.uwlax.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-03.

“African Bush Elephant – Loxodonta africana – Details – Encyclopedia of Life”. Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved 2017-11-03.

Malpas, R. C. (1977). Diet and the condition and growth of elephants in Uganda. Journal of Applied Ecology. 14, 489 – 504.

What Do African Elephants Eat? – Video

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