Learn the truth behind an elephant's diet!

The truth about elephants and peanuts

When you think about the typical elephant's characteristics, what comes to mind? Some common characteristics people list about elephants are they are large, grey and probably only eat peanuts.

The truth is that elephants and peanuts' relationship is not what the media has painted it to be. Here is the truth on do elephants eat peanuts and what an elephant's diet really looks like. 

Do elephants eat peanuts

Even though in cartoons, elephants are shown eating peanuts, they do not eat peanuts. According to the Smithsonian Institution, peanuts are too high in protein for elephants to eat. Dr. Morfeld’s research investigates how different foods affect elephant metabolic health, and peanuts do not make the list of healthy feeding options for elephants. Elephants need to keep a low protein high fiber diet to stay healthy. That is why elephants in zoos are given fruits and hay to stay healthy. Besides, peanuts do not grow in their habitats. 

Where did this myth start? 

Experts believe that the myth about elephants favorite food being peanuts comes from when elephants were used for attraction. In the 1990s, elephants were used in circuses and zoos that allowed people to feed them. 

The circuses and zoos would sell peanut bags for people to feed elephants. It is believed that cartoonists and writers assumed that this was what elephants ate. However, now zookeepers do not allow elephants to be fed. Also, scientists know that peanuts are not a healthy choice of food for these animals. 

An elephant’s diet 

Do not let an elephant’s massive size fool you! These gentle giants are herbivores. The term herbivore means that this animal gets its energy from only eating plants. This term should not be confused with omnivores - who eat both plants and meat. Herbivores have a special digestive system that allows them to eat all kinds of grasses with ease. 

The diet of an elephant in the wild consist of

  • Grasses

  • Bushes

  • Fruits

  • Flowers

  • Roots

  • Tree leaves 

  • Bark 

  • Bamboo (Asian Elephants). 

However, elephants that are in zoos have a slightly different diet. Elephants in zoo eat

  • Hay 

  • Pellets 

  • Fruits 

  • Vegetables 

  • Available trees and shrubs (also known as browse- and is really important!) 

The amount of food elephants eat

To keep an elephant, energized and healthy requires a lot of food! Elephants in the wild can consume up to 200-600 pounds of food each day. How are they able to eat so much? 

Well, elephants spend most of their time eating. They invest between 12 to 18 hours a day eating. Since elephants are always on the search for their next meal, they sleep very little. These animals can sleep for three to seven hours each night. 

For elephants in the zoos, zookeepers are getting creative to keep elephants full and healthy. They use the automatic feeders that drop food for elephants throughout the day and night to ensure they are getting enough food. 

African elephant research has found that elephants also need to exercise their mental abilities, so zookeepers sometimes give elephants food in barks or thick branches to keep them active by problem-solving. However, it is essential to note that researchers and zookeepers are continually working to provide elephants in zoos with the best conservation practices to keep them active and healthy. 

Help us support African elephant research and conservation! 

Nonprofits, like For Elephants, are continuing to research to help keep elephants healthy in zoos and the wild. To help support our conservation research, shop our apparel or donate

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