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Why Does A Baby Elephant Eat Poo?

Craig Brown

Some people may think that the behaviour of this baby elephant is unusual and strange. In fact, eating poo is vital for the survival and wellbeing of many young animals including elephants, rhinos, hippos and warthogs. In this blog senior guide Craig tells us why a baby elephant eats poo.

Elephants are hind gut fermenters. This means that once the food has passed through their stomachs and into their small intestines it enters the large intestine where bacteria causes fermentation to helps break down the grass and plant material. Baby elephants are not born with the necessary bacteria in their gut to allow them to digest plant matter. The only way that the baby elephant can obtain the much-needed digestive bacteria is to consume the faeces of his/her mother or fellow herd members. We see them doing this during the transitioning stage when they begin to eat plant materials while still feeding on milk.

Elephant faeces is composed of 75% water. The remaining 25% is made up of (in approximately equal parts) indigestible fibres that help the faeces through the digestive system, dead bacteria and also salts, dead cells, mucus and live bacteria. This live bacteria are what the baby elephants need to build up their own digestive systems as well as strengthen their immune systems.

Baby Elephant at Kariega Game Reserve

Many African Wild Animals Eat Poo

Many other African wild animals also eat poo. This is known as coprophagia. Faeces contains high levels of minerals and salt needed by the animal.  

Hyena scat is very high in calcium as hyena consume bones as part of their diet. Leopard tortoises will eat the hyena scat to get the calcium to strengthen their eggs and also harden their own shells.

Rabbits and hares also eat their own faeces, sometimes directly from their own rectum, as their digestive systems are so fast that they doesn’t allow the animals to obtain enough nutrients from the food the first time. They have adapted to eating there faeces in order to get the required nutrients that they weren’t able to absorb the first time.

Wildlife Eat Strange Things

Did you see any baby elephants eating poo or any other strange eating behaviour during your safari? Did you enjoy a safari with senior guide Craig? If so please share your photos and videos with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

You may find our other blogs about the strange things that wildlife eat interesting. Please add your comments below.