Nutritional ecology of elephants

Source: K.D. Rode, Journal of Tropical Ecology, 2006, 22: 441-449
and its relationship with crop-raiding behaviour
This study investigated the nutritional ecology of forest elephants in Kibale National Park, Uganda relative to crop-raiding behaviour, and examined nutritional differences between crops and food consumed by wild elephants.
An index of dietary nutrient concentration was determined by quantifying the species and parts of plants consumed along feeding trails, collecting food items, and analysing foods for energy, fibre, protein, minerals and secondary compounds. Frequency of crop raiding was quantified over 13 mo. Energy and protein concentration was within suggested levels, but concentrations of several minerals, particularly sodium, were low relative to requirements based on captive elephants and values reported for other wild populations. The very low sodium concentrations of Kibale elephant diets and low availability of alternative sodium sources, such as soil or water, suggest that sodium drive is very likely in this population. Crops consumed by Kibale elephants had higher Na concentrations and lower concentrations of fibre and secondary compounds than wild diets. The known attraction of elephants to mineral sources throughout their range and the low mineral concentration of leaves, fruits, bark, and stems consumed by forest elephant in this study suggest that mineral nutrition is likely to be an important factor driving elephant behaviour and patterns of habitat use.