Do Elephants Have a Vegan Diet? Or Do They Sometimes Skip Plants?

To respond to sometimes playful banter or provocations that suggest vegans are extremely slim and weak, there are those of us that like to cite certain animals to emphasize the fact that some are huge even though they have plant-based or vegan diets.

Elephants are one animal that vegans often bring up because of their size. However, do elephants follow a strict vegan diet? Well, the first thing you should know is that elephants don’t eat meat. Still, the word “vegan” doesn’t accurately describe an elephant because it’s one we use to describe a lifestyle and personal dietary choice, therefore elephants are better classified as herbivores, which are animals that only eat plants. 

In this article, I’ll provide you with information on what elephants eat, whether they eat other animals, and the difference between being a vegan and a herbivore.

What Foods Do Elephants Eat?

Elephants spend most of their day eating vegetation. 

In fact, they eat between 149 and 169 kg (330-375 lb.) of vegetation daily. They eat grasses, small plants, bushes, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and root. Tree bark, for instance, is a great source of calcium and roughage, and it’s something that elephants are delighted to eat. It’s also a food source that aids digestion.

They don’t sleep a lot as they’re constantly roaming great distances to find large amounts of food require to sustain their massive bodies.  

Elephants also dig the ground using their tusks to obtain minerals and salt. Yes, they literally consume dislodged pieces of soil to diversify their diet. Consequently, they leave holes that are several feet deep, which allow other animals to dig in and get the minerals they need. Elephants also drink a lot of water, as they require between 18 to 26 gallons thrive, though sometimes they consume up to 40 gallons. 

Do Elephants Ever Eat Other Animals?

No, elephants are strict herbivores and will not eat meat.

Their long trunk and dentition and the structure of their mouth is amenable to eating vegetation, thus why they’re constantly browsing and grazing. Elephants also have a complicated digestive system where 85% of what they eat comes out undigested, in a rather fibrous form.

Eating meat would make it very difficult for the elephant to poop, since his digestive system is not built to digest something like meat that is hard to break down. 

You might be able to find one or two reported cases of elephants eating meat, but that’s certainly not something elephants are drawn to do. There is no sufficient evidence for us to acknowledge that elephants eat meat.

Difference Between Herbivores and Vegans

Short Answer: Herbivore is the appropriate biological term given to animals that only eat plants. Veganism, however, is a term used for a diet, and is only applicable to humans because it arises from an ethical and conscious choice to avoid meat.

Herbivores are animals that are biologically structured for a diet comprised of plant materials. They have physical features that help them eat tough, fibrous plant matter. Typically, they only eat plants, though there are herbivores that may consume meat if the opportunity presents itself, though it’s extremely rare. 

For example, this article on Slate speaks on deer that have have long been observed by scientists eating the flesh of dead fish, hence the difficulty of classifying animals based on their diet. Though, allow me to point out that if a herbivore eats meat, it’s likely for it to be very sick as his stomach is not fit for that kind of food.

A vegan is a human being (normally omnivorous) who has specifically chosen to eat a diet without any animal products, but one can point out that we don’t have specific adjustments in our body to eat a specific type of food, whether it be plants or animals. 

We don’t have the digestive system of an elephant or a lion, so we can make a choice at the end of the day.

Ruminant vs Non-Ruminant Herbivores

Ruminant herbivores have have a special four chambered stomach with a unique microbial flora capable of digesting the tough cellulose found in plants. That’s because they produce cellulase, an an enzyme capable of breaking down cellulose, which ruminant herbivores can produce in their rumen. 

Rumen is one of four compartments in a ruminant herbivore’s stomach. It’s the first chamber in the alimentary canal of ruminant animals, and it’s where the food gets primarily digested through microbial fermentation. 

A cow is a ruminant herbivore, while an elephant is a mono-gastric non-ruminant herbivore. 

Compared to the ruminant animal, the non-ruminant animal has a rather simple stomach, which only has one compartment. Elephants do not chew cud, ruminate or belch like ruminant animals, so they’re 50% less efficient when digesting food, hence the necessity to evacuate 12 to 15 times a day. 

This also means that much of the undigested material passes straight through the digestive tract as intact fibres, and as a result, some companies rely on the dung to produce paper products. 

Conclusion

Technically, it’s not correct to classify elephants as being vegan because veganism arises from a conscious decision to avoid meat and other animal products. It’s only a decision that is available to humans and it has arisen from an ethical concern for sentient animals and also the need to protect the environment. 

Elephants don’t have that choice, as they’re biologically predisposed to consume plant matter, not in the same way ruminant herbivores are with their four-chamber digestive system, but the food they’re drawn to is grass, although they can also eat twigs, bark, flowers, and fruits in the absence of grass. 

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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