Elephants eat massive amounts of food — in the case of the African elephant, as much as 660 pounds¹ in a single day. The smaller Indian elephant eats less — but still a lot for you or me — about 330 pounds² a day (an human adult only eats about four pounds of food a day).
An African elephant can weigh as much as 16,500 pounds, making it the largest terrestrial animal.³ Keeping a body that massive moving requires many football-fields-full of vegetation. It also takes huge amounts of water. Wild elephants spend most of their time either looking for food or eating it once they find it.
African elephants can drink as much as 50 gallons⁴ of water in a single day. Because they drink so often and so much, in the wild they are never far from water, though they may live in a variety of habitats, from thick jungle to open savannas.
Elephants are both grazers and browsers, which makes it easier for them to find food. They eat plants of almost any size, from grass up to trees.
What do elephants eat in captivity? Their keepers may give them cabbage, lettuce, sugar cane, apples, and bananas, as well as other fruits and vegetables. But hay, herbivore pellets, and acacia leaf fodder are the mainstays of a captive elephant's diet.
On one winter visit to the Atlanta Zoo, the author even saw Indian elephants eating Christmas trees! They just put their feet on the trunk, ripped the branches off and ate them whole. More >>