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The AZA Standards for Elephant Care and Management states:

High quality and nutritionally correct food must be provided in sufficient quantities to maintain animal health and appropriate weight. Hay and grain should be formulated to provide a complete diet as recommended by the Elephant SSP Nutrition Advisor. Fresh browse and produce should be used as dietary supplement and enrichment for animals.

All AZA facilities housing elephants need to be aware of the animals' nutritional needs. Scientists have repeatedly verified that there is a very close correlation between nutrition and reproductive success.

Elephants should be given ample access to fresh, potable water daily.  Water free-choice is not a requirement; however, offering water at least twice a day and more frequently depending on temperature, humidity, and the amount of exercise the elephant receives is recommended.  Adult elephants consume an average of 140 to 200 L of water per day.

Elephants should be fed throughout the day with good quality fodder, including hay and browse.  Hay should be fed in ample amounts to provide proper nutrition and bulk to stimulate activity. 

Grain supplements should be formulated to sustain elephants in proper health and in good weight.  The amount of food offered should be monitored closely and adjusted regularly depending on whether animal is over-or underweight.

Consulting a nutritionist when choosing the amount to be fed, the grain supplement, and hay type is recommended, even when choosing a commercially prepared elephant diet, because hay quality changes from species of grass, from year to year, and according to the location where the hay is grown.  Hay vendors should be required to provide a complete nutritional analysis before the product is accepted by the facility.  Diets similar to those commercially manufactured for elephants can be formulated in house.

Adapted from:
Fowler, M. E., and Miller, R. E. (Eds.). (2003). Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine (5th ed.). St. Louis: Saunders.

Download the PDFs below for more information on elephant nutrition:

Nutrition Advisory Group Handbook

Studies on Feed Digestibilities in Captive Asian Elephants

Kinzley, C. and K. Emanuelson, DVM. Hand Raising and Diet Supplementation of Calves. Oakland, CA: Oakland Zoo.


During the last 4 1/2 years, gradual changes have been made to the composition of the herbivore pellets used at Disney's Animal Kingdom for elephants and other herbivores.  For the last 2.5 years the Disney's Animal Kingdom Hi Herbivore pellet and the Disney's Animal Kingdom Low Herbivore pellets have been the same in composition, with the same ingredients used in the two formulas.

The main purpose of making changes was to have a nutritionally balanced pellet but also a "safer, light" pellet. For that reason, Disney's Animal Kingdom changed drastically the composition of the pelleted feeds in terms of specifications and ingredients used in the formula. We eliminated all grains (e.g. corn) and wheat midds from the formula to minimize/eliminate the amount of starch.  We added soy hulls, dehulled soybean meal, aspen dried beet pulp, oat hulls, flax oil, etc as the main ingredients of the formula.

The new formula has now less than 3% starch content (Note: the commercial ADF-16 and ADF-25 products contain much higher starch values). Starch is a potential cause of acidosis/ruminitis. The new pellet targets the "wild herbivore browser", but can be used for all wild herbivore species such as grazers and intermediates. In the new formula we have also increased the acid detergent fiber (ADF) percentage from 16% (original and traditional level) to 32% and added fermentable fibers such as pectins to improve rumen fermentation and rumen environment. The specifications for the new formula also are in agreement with the new recommendations given for giraffes (e.g. The Giraffe Nutrition Workshop Proceedings, May 25-26, 2005).

We will continue to monitor animal health, and assess the quality of this formula.
The new name WILD HERBIVORE DIET is now available through Mazuri. 

To find out more about nutrition-based products, here are a few vendors:

            HMS ZOO DIETS
            1222 Echo Lane
            Bluffton, IN 46714
            Phone:  (219)824-5157
            Fax:  (219)824-5254

            LAND O'LAKES
            P.O. Box 64101
            Saint Paul, MN 55164-0101
            Phone:  1-800-328-9680

            Phone:  1-800-277-8941

            PMI Nutrition International
            P.O. Box 66812
            St. Louis, MO  63166-6812
            Phone:  1-795-966-1885

For a description of body condition to assess your elephants see this publication:

Wemmer, C., Krishnamurthy, V., Shrestha, S., Hayek, L.-A., Thant, M., and Nanjapppa, K.A. (Copyright © 2006). Assessment of Body Condition in Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus. Zoo Biology, 25, 187-200. Wiley-Liss, Inc., A Wiley Company. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


While a situation in which an elephant calf is mother-raised is obviously the optimal one, all institutions should be prepared to hand-raise a calf or provide supplemental formula feedings if necessary.


Equipment and Supplies

  • Commercially available bovine bottles (e.g., 2-pint “Little Giant” bottle)
  • Commercially available bovine nipples with the openings enlarged for greater flow
  • Formula
  • Human breast pump
  • Elephant plasma and colostrum if available


There were a variety of formulas used in the sixteen hand-raising case studies that were reviewed, but the most successful and commonly used appeared to be the Grober Elephant Calf Milk Replacer formula, which has been developed for both African and Asian calves.  This product was formulated from analysis of milk collected from lactating female African elephants.  The formula for African calves produces 750 Kcal/liter.

Nutricia Elephant Calf Milk Replacer has been used in Israel and the Netherlands. Several human infant formulas have also been used, including SMA Goldcap/Gold infant formula and Enfamil.  A soy-based formula, Prosobee, was used in an Asian calf that proved to be lactose intolerant.

Feeding Amounts and Frequency

The number of feedings per day can vary from 5-9 per day, with 8-9 appropriate for newborns and 5-6 for calves approaching one year of age.

General guidelines on amounts:

Calf Weight

Kcal per day

Volume of Grober formula

100 kg

6,000 – 8,000

8 – 10.7 L per day

200 kg

16,000 – 20,000

21.3 – 26.7 L per day

To date, the most successful hand-raising strategy for hand-raising African calves outside of Africa (Daphne Sheldrick’s orphanage in Kenya), was the one employed at the Oakland Zoo in which a calf was bottle-raised from birth to 11 months of age.

Time Period

Avg liters/day

Weight of Calf

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Professional Members
Elephant Information
Updated: August 22, 2011