Watching Elephants Eat

African elephant, Zambia

African elephant, Zambia

As the largest land animal on the planet, the African elephant spends a lot of time browsing. They are a fascinating mammal to watch eat because of the many ways they use their trunk.


The trunk is an extension of the upper lip and contains nostrils and two small finger-like projections at the tip for handling small objects.  They use the prehensile trunk to breathe, forage, touch, shower, grasp, drink, and amplify sound.


African elephant, Zambia

African elephant, Zambia

A very complex tool with an astonishing 150,000 muscle fibers, the trunk, or proboscis, serves the elephant as a fifth appendage.


The earth was once home to many members of the Proboscidea family (trunked mammals), but elephants are now the only surviving species.


African elephant, Zambia

African elephant, Zambia

The teeth of Loxodonta africana are so essential that they have several sets in a lifetime.  One molar weighs about 11 pounds (5 kg).


Upper incisors grow into tusks on both the male and female; and are used for digging, foraging, fighting, and defending.


Weighing (male) 11,000-13,200 pounds (5,000-6,000kg), they eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark; and can eat up to 300 pounds (136 kg) of vegetation a day.


African elephant, grey heron, Zambia

African elephant, grey heron, Zambia

Read more about the African elephant here.

More about elephant teeth and trunk here.


One day we sat in our jeep under the hot midday sun, watching the elephants browse the surrounding forest and shallow lake bottom.  We were in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, and we did this for hours.


Athena, Zambia

Athena, Zambia

They were relaxed and protected, the herd spread out around the whole lake. Grey heron, kingfishers, jacana, ibis, and other birds quietly foraged too.


The African elephant population, as everyone is aware, is dwindling and this is a sad fact. Much has been done to protect this distinguished creature.


African elephant adult and calf, Zambia

African elephant adult and calf, Zambia

But on this day under the African sun, they taught their youth and fed themselves and everything was right in the world.


African Elephant distribution map.svg

2007 Loxodonta distribution. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander



79 thoughts on “Watching Elephants Eat

  1. I never realized how essential an elephant’s trunk with all the tools is needed for their survival until I read this blog. They are a fascinating elephant which includes their ability to feel and express emotions. Thanks for sharing another wildlife post

  2. I adore elephants, and enjoy being with you on these trips. The South Luangwa National Park looks to be an idyllic oasis – how wonderful that you and Athena were able to spend so much time there. Once again I learn so much more from your blog…thank you so much….Enjoy the day and week ahead..janet:)

    • On that safari we went a few days early and “scouted” with our friends the guides, so there was just six of us that day, and it was so relaxed and unscheduled. Our jeep got stuck in the sand near lions, so it wasn’t always relaxed (lol); but that midday at the shallow lake was dreamy. It is a supreme pleasure to have you join us, Janet. You, too, have a wonderful week ahead.

  3. This would be a sadder world without elephants, they are fascinating creatures. Thanks for this informative post. I can always hope maybe one day I will actually see an elephant in its natural habitat.

  4. I’m a huge fan of elephants. I have quite the collection all around my house. I got to see one in Uganda a few years ago, but want very much to go on an actual safari and *be* with them for hours. Thanks for sharing! Also, coincidentally, Point Lobos is one of my favorite places on the planet! We are tracking this week. 🙂

    • Hi Melanie, thanks so much for your comment and visit. Fun that both our loves for elephants and Point Lobos surfaced this week. How wonderful that you had the opportunity to visit Uganda, now that’s a rich place I would love to visit. A fun exchange, thank you.

  5. Even knowing we are the worst threat to these awesome giants doesn’t seem to stop us. We all have a responsibility to ensure the trade in ivory ends and elephant numbers can start to pick up slowly again.
    Thanks for the wonderful pictures Jet and the fascinating information.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  6. What a lovely and informative post about my favorite mammal, Jet! I have always been fascinated by these African giants, and in my youthful stupidity sometimes got too close to them. I hope that the conservation efforts are enough to save them.

    • I hope so too, Helen. There are so many stalwarts on this planet working really hard to keep their population present. I always appreciate your visits, and your posts are a delight. 🙂

    • Usually while observing elephants it has been mostly on dry ground, so this was different with the shallow lake. And no matter where it is, the elephant experiences are always, yes Bertie, quite special. Always a pleasure when you visit my friend~~

  7. Very moving to reading about their history and how they live, and particularly how Much has been done to protect this distinguished creature. Thank you so much for the posting, Jet. 🙂

  8. What a wonderful experience for you both! They are so incredible, it’s quite impossible to imagine a world without elephants…
    The photograph of mother and calf is a particular delight – who can resist a baby elephant?!
    Thanks, Jet, and have a great week!

    • Baby elephants are so adorable to watch because when they’re small they have no control of their trunk, and when they get to be teenagers they think they can scare off the big animals just because their mommies can. Always a fun thing to witness, and you’re right, pc, who can resist a baby elephant? Always a treat when you stop by, and very much appreciated. You have a good week too, pc; I hope your new batch of students knows how good they have it with you as their teacher.

  9. African elephants are powerful animals and actually the rulers of the rest of animals. They are intelligent and have a great sense of family and community. I makes me sad when I know that they are killed for just some pieces of ivory. Nice post my friend! 🙂

    • You’re right, HJ, elephants definitely rule the African animal kingdom. Powerful and intelligent creatures, we both hope they survive forever. Thanks so much for your kind words.

    • I was bowled over when I learned that one molar weighs 11 pounds!! Easy to imagine it is so when you’re in the presence of one of these giants. Thanks so much for your devoted and continued support, Bill.

  10. Elephants were easily my favorite animal in Africa. I watched them for hours at waterholes. It is one of the great tragedies that they are being killed off for their ivory. Great shots.

  11. I have watched elephants in a zoo for hours before. I love watching elephants. One of my dreams is to go to India and see the elephants there. You may be opposed to it, but I would love to see the decorated ones and maybe even ride one.

    • Hi Rommel, yes, it is easy to watch elephants for hours, they are fascinating and curious beauties. Although I am not a fan of decorating or riding them, I am glad you honor them. And BTW, I really enjoyed your #400 tribute video. Thanks for your visit today.

  12. So fascinating Jet! Lovely to see Athena captured in a photo on the blog too. Now I’m thinking that an elephant dentists must have a serious training regime going on. ” Have the forklift ready Nurse Sally. We’re taking out two of Dumbo’s molars today.” Eleven pounds each?! Imagine the muscles needed in an elephant’s neck just to hold a set of choppers!

  13. My heart melted when I looked at the photo of the elephant with the heron, such a gentle giant.
    I adore elephants, and your adventure and the photos just strengthen my love for these grand animals.

      • When I think of my time there now, I think of the hippos mostly, wet and dark brown and shining in the river! Somehow seem less stressed than elephants

      • I had never seen so many hippos as in Luangwa Valley, badfish, and oh did we ever enjoy watching them. On land, in water, in sand. Really lovely memories for me too. Thanks for your comment.

      • I know…I have a shot of hippos in the river, it’s like a menagerie of hippos. I saw one rhino, he faked a charge at us to scare us…he did, we moved on.
        Oh and we saw a lion run down a gazelle, by the time we got close, she was having lunch–awesome and sad at the same time…life is life.
        I would love to go see gorillas in the mist somewhere. Have you?

      • Just hearing your adventures brings back good memories, similar ones that we enjoyed, badfish. No, I have not seen the gorillas. That was a very pricey extension we could not justify. We’re saving to go back to Africa in two yrs.for an anniv., I’m excited about that. Many thanks~~

  14. It brings a bit of peace into my heart that the elephants have some good days.
    It seems I am signing a petition to save the elephants every other day. Never have so many been killed for so little. You know I am seeing 1 entire elephant murdered for its tusks.
    Avaaz does a great job with collecting petitions & presenting to world leaders, global summits & meetings, congresses,etc.
    Wonderful post!

    • The tireless work of individuals and organizations on behalf of the elephant population is astounding, and we are so fortunate for this. Thanks for your visits today, Resa.

  15. Lovely post. You search out the most fascinating aspects of each subject, Jet. (And your facts were timely: a friend just had a tooth pulled; I told her she’s lucky she wasn’t an elephant with an 11-lb molar!)

  16. What a terrific post! I love all animals but having grown up in South Africa I am definitely partial to elephants. Thanks for all the interesting tidbits of information.


    • Elephants are almost always a delight to watch, and yes, this shallow lake was heavenly for that; they’re so languid and unusual in how they eat and forage. The only time they are not so fun to watch is when they are coming through your campground smashing down every tree in their wake. In itself it is astounding to witness, but being in the little tent is not so peaceful. ha. Thank you Inger, always a pleasure.

      • Ha ha yes I can imagine it being a bit unnerving having an elephant come crashing through your campground. I would most definitely prefer studying them from a safer distance😀

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