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

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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