Satisfying an elephant’s appetite

April 12, 2018

To mimic the eating habits of an elephant in nature, here at Seneca Park Zoo, we create multiple feeding opportunities for the four African elephants. Each elephant consumes about 140 pounds of food in one day. That amount of food is broken down into three bales of hay, 10 pounds of fruits and vegetables, five pounds of elephant chow, and three pounds of bran twice a week. In order to provide the elephants with such a large amount of food in one day, we separate it into multiple feedings.

Each elephant has a breakfast, bath, lunch, and dinner training routine at which time they will receive a combination of the elephant chow and some produce. Genny C and Lilac can also have up to five pounds of bagels for specific sessions like their baths. Moki and Chana can only have bagels on very special occasions because we are working towards getting them to a more sustainable, healthy weight. We use the elephants’ dietary items as positive reinforcement for participating in their voluntary training sessions.

The training sessions provide mental and physical stimulation for the elephants, and they allow us to check over each elephant’s entire bodies every day. The elephants look forward to these sessions and the time with their keepers knowing the good treats they are going to get for them!

Photo by Ron Kalasinskas

Their hay is given in smaller amounts throughout the day to keep them grazing as they would in nature. We also have barrels and nets hanging up high around the habitat that we fill with their hay in order to mimic the experience of eating out of tall trees. It is also very important to provide the elephants with fresh browse, or vegetation like twigs or young shoots, as much as possible. Their favorites include sugar maple and willow branches. There are some trees that are toxic to elephants, so our staff is well trained on identifying the local trees so those toxic species are never fed to the elephants by mistake.

The elephants’ favorite food items include watermelon, pumpkins, and cabbage. Bagels and breads, although they can only be given under special circumstances, are also a huge favorite!

We can also give the elephants small quantities of food enrichment items throughout the day. Examples include cereals, pretzels, oats, rice cakes, pastas, pancake mix, and canned vegetables. We like to hide these items in barrels and puzzle feeders to challenge the elephants to work on their problem-solving skills!

– Jenna Bovee, Zoologist