Out of nowhere, a young elephant begins to consume the excrement of its own mother.
The odd conduct of a young elephant has brought attention to the act of coprophagia, which is the consumption of excrement. The little pachyderm was observed showing great interest in a pile of dung that belonged to its mother, stooping down to take a big bite. The elephant continued to investigate the mound, and even utilized a stick as a toothpick to eliminate the unpleasant taste. While humans may perceive this practice as disgusting, it is, in fact, common among certain animal species such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, and warthogs. Coprophagia significantly contributes to the survival and well-being of these juvenile animals, although it is seldom witnessed by humans in the wild. Despite its unappealing nature, it holds a crucial role in their diet.
Move over, Dumbo! Say hello to Dung-Bo! Did you know that elephants are considered hindgut fermenters? This means that once their food passes through their stomachs and small intestines, it moves on to the large intestine where bacteria helps break down the grass and plant materials through fermentation. However, baby elephants are not born with the necessary gut bacteria to digest plants. They acquire these crucial digestive microbes by consuming the feces of their mother or other herd members during the transition phase when they begin eating plants while still breastfeeding. It is worth noting that elephant dung consists of 75% water and 25% indigestible fibers, along with live and dead bacteria, salts, mucus, and dead cells. The live bacteria found in the dung are what baby elephants require to develop their immune and digestive systems.
In Africa, it’s not uncommon to see wild animals indulging in coprophagia, or the act of eating poop. While this behavior may seem repulsive, there’s actually a good reason for it – feces contain essential minerals and salt that are vital for an animal’s well-being. For example, hyenas’ poop is high in calcium due to their bone-heavy diet, making it a valuable source of nutrition for other animals like leopard tortoises who need calcium to lay eggs and harden their shells. Similarly, rabbits and hares eat their own poop to absorb nutrients they might have missed out on during their first digestion. These animals have developed a unique adaptation to ensure they receive all the nutrients necessary to maintain good health.