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African Elephants (Loxodonta africana and L. cyclotis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Update in Progress

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This fact sheet, like an elephant, is aging gracefully. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is working to bring you an updated version of the African Elephants Fact Sheet with new science and conservation information. Thanks for your patience, as our tusks go to the ground and dig into this huge project. Please check back soon. SDZWA team members can email questions to

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Diet & Feeding

Vegetarian herbivores

  • Diverse diet
    • May feed on more than 80 different plant specie
    • Composition varies with season and plant availability
    • Diet high in cellulose
      • Specialized digestive system helps digest foods which are difficult to break down
        • Colon and an expanded caecum contain protozoans and bacteria that produce cellulase to digest by fermentation
          • Horses and rhinos have similar structures
        • Small intestine long
          • May measure 35 m (115 ft)
          • Increases area for nutrient absorption
        • Digestion slow
          • May take c. 12 hours
        • Most (66%) food passes undigested and is eliminated in feces
  • Savannah/bush elephants
    • Primarily eat grasses, including sedges
    • Also consume forbs and woody vegetation (leaves, shrubs, trees)
  • Forest elephants
    • Leaves, fruits, seeds, branches, and bark

Feeding & Drinking

Daily Food Intake

  • Consume 4%-6% of body weight daily
    • Require 75-150 kg (165-330 lbs) of food each day


  • Drink 20-50 gallons of water per day
    • Usually drink once / day when water is available
    • May go for several days without drinking in arid areas

Herbivorous diet

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.


African elephants eating.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Shoshani (1992)
Estes (1991)
Eltringham (1982)

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