I am often asked this question by visitors while the elephants are enjoying a delicious truckload of browse that the keepers have collected for them. Browse is defined as “shoots, twigs, and leaves of trees and shrubs used by animals for food.”
Seneca Park Zoo implements a browse program as part of the elephant management program. This is a requirement for accreditation by the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). The elephant staff works very hard to provide Genny C and Lilac with a variety of browse as often as possible.
The goal is to encourage species-appropriate appetite behaviors, as well as to promote dental health. Since elephant teeth migrate forward (not vertically), it is important that the right type of food is offered to promote dental health and allow for the natural progression of each molar.
The elephant staff offers types of browse that have been approved by our veterinarian as safe for the elephants to eat. Staff is trained to be able to identify various species of trees that are native to Western New York. Seneca Park Zoo has relationships with several local towns and tree companies who are happy to help provide the elephants with browse.
So the answer to the question “Do the elephants really eat trees?” is YES! Their favorites are sugar maple, Norway maple, silver maple and willow. They eat the leaves and small branches completely, chew the bark off of the medium size branches, and use their tusks to scrape the bark off of the large logs.
Blog by Sue Rea, Zoologist; Photos by Sue Rea and Jenna Bovee, Elephant Handler