Leaves, twigs and branches — for humans, that’s a great mix
for garden mulch, but for elephants, it’s a favorite snack!
African elephants are the world’s largest herbivores and
feeding their cravings can be a big chore, especially when an elephant, which
weighs several tons, will eat about 1.5 percent of its body weight every single
At the Indianapolis Zoo, our
elephants regularly receive leaves and branches that our Horticulturists
have trimmed from trees and shrubs around our 64-acre campus. Feeding out this
edible greenery, called browse, is both economically and environmentally
friendly — the ultimate in going green.
Browse makes up only a small portion of the elephants’ daily
diet, yet elephants aren’t the only animals that receive browse for food. So
our Horticulture staff is still challenged to provide enough browse to satisfy
our animals’ appetite.
Recently, the Zoo branched out and started a partnership
with the Indianapolis Museum of Art to
collect browse from the Virginia
B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. Their 100 wooded acres provides a virtual
all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of leafy limbs for Zoo animals. Plus, offering
their landscape clippings as browse is an eco-friendly way for the IMA to keep
their campus looking beautiful.
Starting small, our Horticulturists recently cut two young
mulberry trees from the back of the nature park that our Plains staff fed to
the elephants later that day. Browse are a form of nutrition as well as
enrichment for the animals, as it encourages them to forage for food just as
they would in the wild. Nyah, the youngest of the elephants in our herd, also
enjoyed playfully flipping her food around with her trunk.
And snack time didn’t last long on this particular afternoon,
as the elephants quickly ate every last tasty splinter.
Waste not, want not!