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Domesticated Elephant Dietary Requirements

April 07, 2018

Recently, we were in Baan Ta Klang, Surin, Thailand which is home to 300 elephants representing the largest concentration of domesticated elephants anywhere. The Elephant Story supports native English-speaking teacher programs for the children of the mahouts as well as a veterinarian effort for their elephants. No more than a few yards away from our bungalow was a mother with her fourteen-month old baby and a massive bull elephant a bit removed from them. Interestingly, the bull elephant's diet was different from that of the mother and baby.

The bull elephant was on a high protein, low sugar diet to reduce his energy level as he was approaching the cycle when he would be in musth. Musth is a period characterized by a rapid increase in male elephant testosterone levels that increase as much as sixty times more than normal. One can only imagine the energy level of a sex-crazed bull elephant and the difficulty in controlling one in a domesticated environment. Therefore, they are fed a steady diet of banana stalks during this period which are high in protein and low in sugar.

On the other hand, the diet of the mate and her baby is considerably different favoring young pineapples which are high in sugar. The buffet is supplemented by sugar cane which falls into the same category.

The elephants will crush the pineapples and eat only the lower part of the fruit and the tender sections of the fronds. If it is a large pineapple plant that has been harvested to sell the fruit, the fronds are then offered to the elephants. They will use their feet to break up the lower part of the fronds and select only the most tender to eat.

Lastly, they finish off their meal with the roughage of elephant grass which is akin to the French closing a rich dinner with a salad.

On the other hand, the high protein, low sugar banana stalks are not only served to the big boys.

However, the hand-peeled bananas are reserved for the baby, and not the mother, despite her keen interest in having some of them.

To put this varied menu into context, these three elephants eat over 500 kilos (1102 Pounds) of food per day spread out over three meals. Very few restaurants can rival that quantity. The attention, care and related costs required to maintain domesticated elephants, coupled with the rapidly diminishing natural habitats for those in the wild, underscores the fragility of the sustainability of these wonderful members of the animal kingdom.

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