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Ask the Expert: How much do elephants eat?

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Question: How much do the Zoo's elephants eat in a day?

Answer: The Zoo’s five African elephants eat between 100 and 400 pounds of food a day, depending on the elephant. The majority of that is hay – up to 300 pounds for Willy alone! – but they also eat produce and tree matter, or “browse.” Elephants are herbivores, feeding on grasses and leaves and using their powerful trunks to dig for roots or break off large tree branches.

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In the wild, elephants spend up to 60% of their day foraging for food. To mimic those behaviors at the Zoo, keepers place food in various places throughout African Elephant Crossing and up high in nets, or “elevated feeders.” Elephants are designed for reaching up for their food, said Chris Peterson, Assistant Curator of Animals. It help builds head, neck and shoulder muscle and increases social cohesion, where the animals have to work together and eat cooperatively.

Elevated Hay Feeders

“In any of our Zoo animals we try to get them to do normal, natural behaviors. We want them to work a little bit for their food and demonstrate those behaviors that they would in the wild – reach up in the feeders and pull out the pieces they want, or break down the browse or dig for produce,” said Peterson.

“An African elephant can actually reach up for food, put it in their mouth and reach up for another bite without ever slowing down.”

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