EleFact Friday: A Healthy and Happy Diet

After sharing a couple posts lately of the sanctuary elephants snacking, whether it be Bambi with her watermelon or Maia and Guillermina sharing their hay, we’ve received a few questions about the diet that the girls receive here at sanctuary. Today’s EleFACT is all about food! 

It’s important to share that all of the sanctuary elephants could likely live off of what the sanctuary habitat provides, as far as diet goes. Many of the treats that you see us share with them, like melons, grains, and hay, are supplemental. We supplement with grains, like oats and bran, and produce several times a day – or more if their individual needs require. The produce they get is more of a treat than having a significant nutritional benefit, but it serves a greater purpose in allowing us opportunities to observe subtle changes in behavior or appetite. By watching them eat for even just a few minutes, we can get some clues about any GI issues or teeth/mouth problems that may arise. 

Another interesting fact about diet, especially in regards to the sanctuary, is that the Asian and African elephant habitats are a bit different as far as the environment goes. When we eventually bring African elephants to the sanctuary, they will have different grazing patterns than our current residents. Asian elephants are more of a grazing species while African elephants are browsers, so they will self correct when they arrive. The area we have selected for the African habitat is a different landscape, with more shrubs, bushes, and low lying trees, making it more appropriate for their diet. Even the grass is a bit different – more like Bermuda grass, which future residents will certainly enjoy. 

One of the delights of sanctuary is being able to provide the elephants with even the smallest of comforts that they’ve never experienced before. Watermelons, papayas, jackfruit, and squash may just be a normal trip down the grocery aisle for us, but those snacks prove to us time and time again how much a small treat can make a big difference to these elephants who are so deserving of joy.

Photo of Bambi with her pumpkin


  1. REPLY
    Carey says

    So interesting to hear about the differences between the Asian and African habitats. And I’m really happy to hear that the food you give them is supplemental and it has purposes other than just food. What percentage of their diet is grazing and what supplemental? It must take a while for them to learn that grazing is good for them and nice too, I understand it took a while for Kaavan at Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, but he also gets supplements

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      The majority of their diet is from grazing, particularly in the rainy season when things are growing up fresh and new everywhere. The supplementary food is just enough for us to monitor their diet and behavior. Guillermina is doing well with her grazing behaviors. It took her a little while to realize that her food is all around her, but she is highly food motivated, so it didn’t take too long.

  2. REPLY
    Pam says

    So many delightful aspects to life at Sanctuary … I love learning all these elephant facts, too. Thank you!

  3. REPLY
    Barb says

    Excellent synopsis of diet needs and supplements!

  4. REPLY
    Susy says

    Así es..merecen alegría. Gracias por enseñarnos siempre algo más sobre nuestras queridas Elefantes. Es raro terminar el día sin haber buscado info del Santuario y nunca me duermo sin pensarlas…que harán,?cómo habrá pasado el día Guille y el resto de las chicas.? No dejo de recordar a Pocha que por lo menos pudo pisar esa tierra, disfrutar de la libertad, de las meriendas. Un abrazo..y gracias

  5. REPLY
    Charlotte Hansen says

    I’m afraid I don’t know what the difference is between grazing and browsing. Is it eating grass vs eating bushes and such? Thank you!

    • REPLY
      Sara says


  6. REPLY
    Benita Auge says

    After having been mistreated for so many years, they are finally receiving joy in their lives. I am so happy for them!

  7. REPLY
    Wim says

    Wonderful to read this story. This really gives more insight into sanctuary life. I can imagine giving treats to watch everyone just enjoy.

  8. REPLY
    Beji says

    Snacks and treats for all!! Do they still like Fruit Loops?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      They still occasionally get Froot Loops.

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