A few weeks ago, we put out a call to action to raise funds for hay to supplement the diets of the sanctuary elephants and many of you showed up and supported us. In addition to the kind donations, we received a number of questions about the diets and needs of the elephants here at ESB. For today’s EleFACT, we want to dive a little bit deeper into the topic of the food that they receive on a regular basis.
Understandably, we received questions about why we can’t or don’t grow our own hay and produce. The investment and sacrifice of good elephant habitat that we would have to allocate to grow hay or to maintain a garden, with the cost of equipment for irrigation, cutting, baling, and people to care for it, is something that we don’t have right now. Space to house volunteers to run and maintain a garden of any kind is severely limited. Additionally, the climate is not ideal, which is why the quality of local hay that we may have access to isn’t good, and the hay that is okay is brought in from another state. Alfalfa hay is available for a cheaper price, but the protein levels are too high for Asian elephants and can cause serious health issues.
As far as growing our own produce goes, the sanctuary has many fruit trees on property that grow well in this climate and are cost effective. We have about 40 mango trees, 20 banana trees (which we plan to expand on) numerous jackfruit trees, guava trees, acerola trees, jabuticaba trees, bamboo, and others. However, sustaining a herd of elephants on what we can grow would take significant time and monetary investment that doesn’t balance out at this point. We are very grateful for what we do have that we can grow and use to supplement. Often we support local farmers who sell their produce at a reduced cost, enabling us to support the community and improve elephant/human relationships.
Many supporters were very curious as to why elephants eat hay at all – if they were in the wild, they wouldn’t be receiving the supplemental feedings, so why give it to them here? By feeding them hay or other grains, it can compensate for the damage that their bodies have been through in captivity. Supplemental feeds, like produce, also allow us to monitor their appetites better – because everyone loves produce; if they suddenly don’t want it or chew differently, we know there may be a problem. These interactions also strengthen the elephant/caregiver relationship, since the elephants enjoy their snacks, and they allow the caregivers time to stand back and watch the elephants, learning more about what is their “normal,” how they move, and their social structure.
The elephants at the sanctuary could realistically survive on and do benefit from the natural grazing that they could get from the habitat alone, but it is a great privilege to be able to provide them additional nourishment and nutrition after the many years they did not receive adequate diets. With your support, we are in a position to treat them to the freshest fruits and vegetables, and we will continue to do so as often as we can.
Photo of Guillermina, enjoying some hay