An elephant's diet
Elephants will eat hundreds of species of plants (from one hundred to five hundred depending who you ask). They have a varied diet which includes about 30-60% grass, and also leaves, bark, flowers twigs, seed pods, bamboo and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. During the rainy season grasses are their most popular food, with the elephants moving onto fruit and shrubs once the grasses dry out in warmer seasons. Elephants are herbivores, which means they do not eat meat.
Elephants will eat anything from a tiny shrub to a large tree, and it is believed the acacia is their favorite. They aren't wasteful, consuming entire plants from the roots to the twigs. Elephants can also be found raiding farmers crops, which can cause tensions between the elephant and human populations.
Tree bark is a particular delicacy to an elephant, as it provides roughage to aid in digestion as well as essential minerals and nutrients.
African elephants, in general, eat more leaves whereas Asian elephants eat more grass.
What do elephants eat at the zoo?
Elephants in captivity are fed a more controlled diet, in small regular portions to mimic the way they would eat in the wild.
These elephants will eat mostly bales of hay, fortified pellets and acacia leaf fodder but will also find themselves munching on fruit and vegetables such as lettuce, pears, cabbage, apples, broccoli and bananas. Of course, they are most famous for enjoying peanuts.
In the Summer, some zoos even give their elephants giant bucket-sized ice pops with entire fruits frozen inside!
How do elephants eat their food?
Being both grazers (eating low-growing foods like grass) and browsers (higher foods like leaves and branches) means elephants have a relatively easy time finding something they can eat, which is just as well given then amount they need to eat per day.
Elephants use their trunk for the actual eating and drinking, but also for tearing off leaves, fruits and so on. Tusks come in handy for digging up food and water as well as stripping the bark from trees and hunting for salt in the ground, and an elephant can dig a large hole (sometimes even a cavern!) in his search for something suitable.
How much food does an elephant need?
Elephants are the world's largest land mammals, and an African elephant can weigh as much as 16,500 pounds. Naturally, keeping a body that large on the go requires a lot of food, and a lot of time spent eating it.
Every day, an elephant will eat from 140-300kg of vegetation and drink 20-50 gallons of water depending on their size and activity level. Elephants have poor digestive systems and cannot digest cellulose (a significant portion of plant matter), so only about 40% of this food is ever digested and an elephant will need to spend 16-18 hours a day just eating. Female elephants will eat even more than this while pregnant.
Around 80% of an elephant's time is spent either looking for or eating food.