Yesterday afternoon while out on game drive we came across a sighting where we witnessed some of the elephants eating the dung of the matriarch (the dominant cow elephant in a herd). So naturally the question was asked as why this happens.

For elephants to be able to digest their food, they need microscopic organisms. Calves often eat the dung of the adults to get the microscopic organisms into their system which helps them digest their food. Less than half of the adult’s food is digested, so the dung is rich as a food source for the youngsters.

Another strange thing that we also witnessed was one of the bull elephant, approximately 16 years old, also aating the dung of the same female. This can be due to the fact that there has not been rain yet and that these giants of Africa will do almost anything for some sort of food with nutrients. Even eating the dung of another elephant. It can easily be predigested since only between 40 and 60 present of what is taken in gets digested so a lot of nutrients go to waste.

Just for interest, the scrub hare is also well known for eating its own dung to get more nutrients from its food.

The term for this behavior is called “copraphagia”.

Armand Steyn

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