top of page

Hand-raising Orphan Asian Elephants

Chapter 4: Feeding Milk 


By Ellen Dierenfeld


With contributions from Bhaskar Choudhury

Sections in this chapter include the following:

  • Introduction

  • Supplies and equipment

  • Methods of administration

  • Hygiene

  • Record keeping

  • Colostrum 

  • Artificial milking

  • Feeding amounts and frequency

  • Milk composition

  • Milk composition changes during stages of lactation

  • Choosing a formula

  • Coprophagy




Elephant calves are milk-dependent for the first two years of life and may suckle up to four or five years naturally. The long-term commitment to hand-rearing therefore involves both physiological and crucial aspects of social development.  


Comprehensive and excellent resources have been previously published for hand raising elephant calves in zoos (Kinzley, 1997) (Emanuelson and Kinzley, 2002) (Emanuelson, 2006) (Weber and Miller, 2012). Much of the information presented below is extracted from those resources.  

Supplies, Equipment and Milk Replacers

Items needed for hand-raising orphan elephants include commercially available bovine bottles and nipples (see Figure 4.1) and ingredients for milk replacement, including lactase enzyme. Bovine-sized bottles (1-2 liter capacity) and nipples should be stocked in advance if possible. If these are not readily available, feeding devices can be improvised. Calves may accept milk from a pan or can be fed using a funnel and soft tube, but this largely depends upon age. Older calves even learn to grasp a soft tube and suckle from a larger pail of bucket.  See Figure 4.2


Figure 4.1 Equipment for hand-raising includes bottles, extra nipples, a bottle cleaning

Figure 4.1: Equipment for hand-raising includes bottles, extra nipples, a bottle cleaning  brush, and a kitchen scale

Fig 4.2 Using a funnel and soft tube to deliver milk.jpeg

Figure 4.2: Using a funnel and soft tube to deliver milk.

A variety of milk replacers have been used. See discussion below and Table 4.1 (a and b) to compare nutrient composition of several products, and Table 4.6 below for examples of some blends used successfully in various locales in South and Southeast Asia and Africa.

Scales and/or measures for weighing both the calf as well as formulas and supplemental foods are essential.

Table 4.1a. Commercial products  used in feeding elephants.jpeg
Table 4.1a,b Commercial products  used in feeding elephants.jpeg
Figure 4.3 The calf is in a comfortable position with his trunk resting on the bottle.jpg

Figure 4.3: Calf in comfortable position for nursing.

Fig 4.5 Milk overflowing from the mouth lr.jpg

Figure 4.4: Calf is more comfortable with head held high. Milk overflowing from the mouth may indicate the nipple hole is too large.

The flow of milk from the bottle through the nipple must be checked to ensure it is not too fast nor too slow. Calves may aspirate or be frustrated with low milk flow if the nipple hole is too small, so the hole may have to be enlarged slightly from that provided in the typical calf nipple. This can be accomplished by cutting the opening slightly to allow a steady drip when tipped. Sometimes making a cross will create an adequate opening. Always have extra nipples available. Too large a hole that allows the milk to flow too quickly can also cause aspiration and should be avoided. See Figure 4.4. Milk overflowing out of the mouth during bottle feeding can be a sign that the hole is too large; proper temperature should also be considered if not swallowed.  Emanuelson and Kinzley (2002) suggest a rubber band be placed between nipple and bottle rim to act as a gasket to ensure air can escape when the calf is suckling.  



As with any feeding program, personal hygiene of food preparers including hand sanitation and/or the use of gloves is important - particularly in the earliest stages of hand-feeding - to minimize potential introduction of pathogens. Any formula ingredients should be stored properly (cool, dry storage; clean, vermin-proof containers) to maintain quality. Leftover milk should be discarded immediately.


Feeding equipment should be thoroughly cleaned between uses. Proper protocols should be developed, trained, and implemented for all personnel. 


Bottles and nipples should be washed with hot water and soap after every use; bottles should be sterilized daily through boiling in water for 5 minutes. Wash nipples with very hot water and dip briefly in boiling water to sterilize. Boiled (cooled) water should be used to blend dry milk replacers and all utensils, mixing and storage containers should be sanitized (washed with hot water) after use. 


Record Keeping


Daily feeding records should be maintained detailing formula choices, milk input and fecal output amounts/consistency, including any changes to ingredients, amounts or preparation techniques. Records should be summarized weekly or at minimum, monthly, to monitor trends in feeding and stool production. Other information to record includes: general health and vital signs (including weight), sleep/activity periods, and developmental milestones such as tooth eruptions and behavioral learning stages. Clearly this information will overlap with medical records overseen by the veterinary staff. 

Diet Record Keeping Form
Table 4.2 Diet Record keeping Form.jpg

Colostrum and Passive Immunity 


Colostrum is the the first milk secreted after birth. It is rich in antibodies that help to prevent disease in the first few weeks of life while the neonate’s own immune system is developing. Colostrum is also rich in other nutrients, vitamins, and enzymes (Abdou et al., 2012) and is a natural source of two major growth factors (Uruakpa et al., 2002).

In domestic species that depend on colostrum for antibody transfer (cows and horses for example), newborns that do not receive colostrum are more likely to experience medical problems and have higher mortality. This is called failure of passive transfer.

It has always been assumed that colostrum was as essential for elephants as for other large herbivores and that it was the main way that antibodies were transferred to newborn elephants. However, recently it has been determined that newborn elephants do receive antibodies via the placenta (Nofs et al., 2013)(McGee et al., 2014). This raises a question whether colostrum is essential for elephants. 

Nonetheless, consumption of colostrum to support both additional passive transfer, as well as gut microbiome development, is highly recommended for all newborns. The presence of antibodies against EEHV in the milk has been confirmed recently (Pers. comm. Willem Schaftenaar). It is possible that antibodies against other potential pathogens (e.g. against enteric pathogens) may play a role in the defence system of the intestines.

(Ilmberger et al., 2014) (Kambe et al., 2020). See Chapter 5 – Digestive Physiology / Gut Flora).


Elephant neonates have been reported to normally consume 2—10 liters of colostrum, with nursing beginning as early as 30 minutes after birth (Kinzley, 1997). Thus, strive to feed two to ten liters orally to a newborn elephant that has not nursed from the mother, preferably by bottle feeding when the calf is <6 to 12 hours old if possible, and not older than 24 to 48 hours. Note that some calves may not drink more than a total of 2 liters the first day of life. Colostrum can be interspersed with electrolyte solution feeds to ensure hydration.


If elephant colostrum cannot be obtained, colostrum from other hoofstock (bovid, equid) could be fed during the first 24 hours after birth (first 6 to 12 hours preferred), as this has been shown useful even if not species-specific in other ungulates.


In facilities with multiple breeding elephants, prior to impending births, colostrum (fresh elephant preferred; bovine or equine acceptable) can be collected and stored frozen at -20° C for up to a year prior to being warmed to body temperature for feeding. Rehydrated dried commercial colostrum products could also be utilized, provided safe water sources are available. 


If colostrum is not available, plasma (preferably elephant, but other hoofstock as well) collected from a healthy donor from the same herd (particularly for anticipated births) can be offered orally to provide some local immunity. Sterile plasma may be stored at —200C for 6 months, and at —70 0 C for 12 months.   


The antibody content of plasma is likely to be lower than that found in colostrum hence a larger volume must be given.  Approximately 10-15% of of body weight can be consumed per day; if feeding plasma, 15-25% may be more effective in early stages. For wild born calves, aging as accurately as possible is essential for efficacy of passive immunity feeding.

Gut Biome

Artificial Milking


If easily handled lactating females are available, colostrum or supplemental milk can be collected by hand milking or the use of a manual or electric human breast pump. All elephant mothers do not cooperate, hence a trial with the mahout should be done using the mahout/handler as the primary intervener. Manual milking is similar to the technique used in goats: squeeze the teat at the top with the thumb and forefinger then squeeze the other three fingers in succession. Oxytocin (20-30 units) may be administered intramuscularly approximately five minutes before pumping to facilitate milk letdown (Emanuelson, 2006). Oxytocin has also been used to stimulate letdown during calf nursing bouts in apparently agalactic mothers (mothers with no milk). The amount of milk that can be collected in the first 24 hours varies widely, reported from 300 to approximately4000 ml; up to 10 liters is theoretically possible (Emanuelson and Kinzley, 2002). In some cases, the dam may only be able to be milked a single time to collect colostrum; frequent milking and the use of oxytocin should increase the amount of milk collected. The breast pump is usually used for approximately 10—20 minutes per breast, with rest periods, warm packs, and massage used during milking to increase the volume of milk collected. 

Feeding Amounts and Frequency


Mother-raised calves are weaned by 4 or 5 years of age, although dependence on milk decreases considerably by age two years. 


Newborn calves are initially fed on demand and may nurse every one to two hours around the clock – typically up to eight liters per day. By three months of age, nighttime feedings may be gradually decreased such that the calf is feeding only every three hours, depending on health and growth rate. The intervals between feedings may gradually be increased so that by one year of age, a calf is offered bottles only six or seven times a day – every four hours during daylight, and one or two night feedings if the calf is hungry, with volumes dependent on caloric density and fluid requirements. Over 15 months of age, solid food consumption should maintain the calf overnight, with only three bottle feeds per day necessary. 

Newborn calves should be fed on demand and may nurse every 1-2 hours.

Three month old calves can be fed every 3 hours. 

Calves consume approximately 10% to 15% of their body weight daily, although volumes fed depend on the formula and dilution used. Caloric requirements have been estimated at 6000 to 8000 kcal/day for a 100-kg calf and 16,000 to 20,000 kcal/day for a 200-kg calf (Emanuelson and Kinzley, 2002). Calves weighing 100 kg should consume minimally ~3000 to 3500, up to 5000 kcal per day, whereas growing calves weighing 200 kg require about twice that (~5000 to 6000, up to ~10,000 to 12,000 kcal/day. Animal response in terms of growth and appetite will help guide amounts. Using a formula containing about 1000 kcal per liter, 100 kg calves would thus need at least 3 to 5 liter per day, or 5 to 10 liters per day for the 200 kg for the 200 kg calf. If the formula contains ~600 kcal per liter, the same sized calves would require minimally 5-8 liters per day, or 10-20 liters per day, respectively.

Calves consume 10-15% of the body weight daily.

The kcal/day goal for the calf’s age and the concentration of the formula (kcal/liter)

determine the volume to offer. 

Formulas and any added ingredients should be evaluated for composition and energy content (Table 4.1). Although calves will start to nibble solid foods by three months of age and by four to six months increasing amounts of solid food may supplement calories provided, milk still provides the primary nutrition. After nine to 12 months of age, total milk volumes can gradually decrease as solids replace formula calories.  See Table 4.3 


Table 4.3 Feeding freq and amount.jpg

Composition of Milk


Carbohydrates.  Both lactose as a simple sugar, but also more complex oligiosaccharides that may be digested through microbial intestinal cellulases are reported as primary carbohydrates in elephant milks of both species (Kunz et al., 1999)  (Osthoff et al., 2008) (Uemura et al., 2006) although theoligosaccharide community appears to be more complex in African compared to Asian elephant milks (Osthoff et al., 2008). Asian elephant milk has also been reported to contain high levels of glucosamine an abundant monosaccharide important in cartilage development (Takatsu et al., 2017). 


While peaking at 5% in early milk, lactose drops to ~2% (Kobeni et al., 2020); Asian elephant milks showed a similar pattern of decrease in lactose, but at an even lower concentration (~1%; (Abbondanza et al., 2013). Total carbohydrates (lactose plus oligosaccharides plus mono-, other di- and trisaccharides) in elephant colostrum comprise between 3-5% of milk composition (Kobeni et al., 2020),  rapidly increasing (by day 3) to 11-12%, then decreasing throughout lactation (8% by 12 mo, 6% by 24 mo), with the oligosaccharides becoming the major fraction - a pattern opposite that seen in human milks. Lactose and isoglobotriose reached equal levels at mid-lactation (Kobeni et al., 2020), and the latter was the main oligosaccharide also identified in Asian elephant milks (Kunz et al., 1999;  Uemura et al., 2006). Although not found in human or other primate milks, this compound is seen in the milks of various wildlife and livestock species. Regarding total oligosaccharides plus lactose content, elephant milks appear more similar to human than many other livestock mil. Nonetheless the unique profiles and concentration of specific carbohydrate fractions may be important for optimal immune system and brain development  (Kunz et al., 1999;  Uemura et al., 2006) so must be considered in appropriate milk replacers. While lactose may be an important early energy source, levels are typically low in elephant milks and lactose-containing replacers should likely be treated with lactase enzyme. 


Early publications of elephant milk composition did not differentiate carbohydrate fractions, and techniques used may have only measured total sugar content in the past. As interest, methods and understanding have developed, it is becoming clearer that lactose represents the dominant carbohydrate in elephant milk early in lactation, decreasing over time, whereas oligosaccharide levels peak in mid-lactation (Osthoff et al., 2005) (Osthoff et al., 2007), thus suggesting possible different functions (energy vs immune support?) at different stages of life. The specific role of milk oligosaccharides to the applied nutrition of elephants has not yet been investigated in detail but should be considered in interpreting some of the stage of lactation differences noted for these pachyderms (see Table 4.5).


Proteins. African elephant colostrum contained almost 5% protein, which declined to 2.5-3% after one month, then steadily increased for the rest of lactation to ~4 to 7% (Kobeni et al., 2020). Similarly in Asian elephants, milk protein increased from ~4% at 3 mo to just over 5% in late lactation (Abbondanza et al., 2013) (Dierenfeld et al., 2020). Expressed on a per energy basis, protein remains rather constant in Asian elephant milk. Casein is the predominant protein in African elephant milk, followed by whey; this pattern is similar to equine milks, but not other mongastic or human milks which contain higher concentrations of whey.   

Fats. Elephant milks have a rather unique fatty acid profile, with up to ½ to 2/3 comprising capric (C10:0) and lauric (C12:0) acids; capric acid comprised 60-70% of glyceride fatty acids, and increased with stage of lactation, in African elephant milk  (McCallaugh and Widdowson, 1970). These are both medium-chain saturated fats, with the former found in small amounts in goat and cattle milks, but both found in high concentrations in coconut oil. African elephant milks contain high concentrations of medium-chain length fatty acids, and low amounts of both long-chain and unsaturated fatty acids (Kobeni et al., 2020). Unpublished data sampled from Asian elephants (Takatsu, Z, Morinaga Milk, Kangawa, Japan) supports extrapolation of this general pattern to Asian elephant milks as well (Osthoff, personal communication 2022).  


Ash/minerals.  Ash content of colostrum was 0.3% and changed to 0.2% after four days (Kobeni et al., 2020). By the 12th month of lactation, ash content reached approximately 0.5% in African elephant milk, which is similar to an average value reported for a zoo-based Asian elephant (Mainka et al., 1994)(Mainka et al., 1994) but considerably below that reported in milks from 6 Asian elephants in late lactation in Myanmar (0.9%; (Dierenfeld et al., 2020). Little information is available on specific minerals in elephant milks; high K and Na concentrations in colostrum decreased initially (after 3 days), then gradually increased and remained stable after about 12 mo.  Stable values of 0.2% K, 0.03% Na, and 0.01% Mg were reported for African elephant milks (Kobeni et al., 2020). Ca and P occurred at low levels in African elephant colostrum (0.03 and 0.02%, respectively) then increased to 0.12 and 0.05%; these values were lower than Ca and P recorded for Asian elephant milks (0.1-0.2% for Ca, 0.06-0.12% for P, Abbondanza et al. 2013). Ash increases reflected increases of all major macrominerals (Ca, P, Mg, Na and K) over lactation (Kobeni et al., 2020) and may suggest a higher mineral need for growing calves during this rapid growth period (up to 1 year). Microminerals were found at low yet constant amounts in African elephant milk (Fe <0.06%, and Cu, Mn, and Zn at <0.001%; Kobeni et al., 2020), but have not been quantified in Asian elephant milks. 


Vitamins. Reported vitamin levels in elephant milk are low; <0.1 mg/kg for vitamin A, <0.3 mg/kg vitamin E, and <1 µg/kg for vitamins D3 and K, particularly during the first month of lactation in African elephants (Kobeni et al., 2020). In a zoo setting, vitamin A measured in African elephant milk (from a supplemented animal) ranged from 28-171 IU/100 g, vitamin D 22-70 IU/100 g, and vitamin E, 0.33-0.88 µg/ml (mg/kg) (Parrot, 1996). Milk from a zoo-sampled Asian elephant averaged 0.33 µg/ml vitamin E, with vitamin A, 0.46 µg/ml (Mainka et al., 1994), whereas semi-free-range Asian elephant milk samples contained vitamin E levels of 0.18 µg/ml (Dierenfeld et al., 2020). 


Energy. Gross energy measured in Asian elephant milk samples ranged from 1000 (birth) to 2000 (2 years of age) kcal/1000 g, steadily increasing energy density through lactation (Abbondanza et al., 2013). Values measured from African elephant samples remained at ~250 kcal/1000 g to approximately 9 mo of lactation, then increased to ~800 kcal/1000 g with the increase in milk fat and protein (Kobeni et al., 2020).  

Milk Composition Changes During Stages of Lactation


For African but not Asian elephants, changes in milk composition are strong up to about 12 mo of lactation with little or no change thereafter. Conversely, Asian elephant milk constituents (particularly fat increases at the expense of sugars) continued through 30 months of lactation, with protein and mineral constant remaining rather constant. These changes need to be considered in feeding programs. The unique properties of elephant milks, including high oligosaccharide content – which may comprise up to half of the total sugar, and a unique fatty acid profile rich in medium-chain saturated fatty acids may be difficult to duplicate using typically available human- or livestock-based milk replacers. Furthermore, Asian elephant milk has been shown to contain a high level of glucosamine with levels >100X greater than found in cow’s milk, and >10X the levels found in human milk (Takatsu et al., 2017). Potential developmental, health, and growth consequences of possibly not duplicating these specific compounds or nutrient profiles through current hand-rearing practices with elephant calves have not been assessed.


Few published values of elephant colostrum are available, and recent observations with African elephants are extrapolated to Asian elephant colostrum. As in other species, colostrum can have an extremely different composition compared with mature milk. Kobeni et al. (2020), working with a human-accustomed African cow was able to examine detailed changes in colostrum to milk from the day of the calf’s birth. They measured total carbohydrate levels from 3 to 5% over the first 2 days, that rose to >11% for the first few months, then gradually leveled at 6%. Lactose was the dominant carbohydrate, with colostrum containing 1.9%, rising to 5% after 3 days, then a constant decrease to 2%. Simultaneously, oligosaccharides were 2.1% at day zero, rising to 4.3% the first month then declining and stabilizing at 3.3%. Isoglobotriose became the major carbohydrate fraction by the fourth month, increasing from 0.8 to 2.2% at 12 months of lactation and to 1.5% at 19 months of lactation. 


Protein (primarily casein) was also higher in colostrum than milk after 1 month (4.7 vs. ~3%), then gradually increased over lactation to between 4 and ~7%; this pattern has also been described in Asian elephants (Abbondanza et al., 2013).  Milk fat was low in colostrum (~2%), rising to above 12% after 13 months, then fluctuating between 8 and 16% - again, similar to values and patterns reported in Asian elephants. 


Specific fatty acid patterns in African elephant milks over lactation were recently summarized (Kobeni et al. 2020): colostrum was high in C10:0 (capric acid, 31%), C12:0 (lauric acid, 17%), C16:0 (palmitic acid, 15%), and C18:1 (oleic acid, 18%). These proportional values changed by mid-lactation at 9 months, with capric reaching ~60%, lauric 27%, and both palmitic and oleic acids decreasing below 5% contribution. Fatty acids containing 10 carbons or less decreased over lactation, while those with >16 carbons decreased. Saturated fatty acids comprised ~73% of milk fat in colostrum, and up to 95-96% of milk fat by mid- to late lactation. Energy originally derived from lactose is likely replaced by lipid utilization later in lactation, but specific fatty acids may also have relevance to overall health and development. 


Minerals (ash) content was found to be higher in colostrum than milk (0.3 vs 0.2%), declining within 4 days, with an increase up to about 0.5% by 12 months. This pattern of increase throughout lactation has been seen in both African and Asian elephant milks (see Table 4.5). Colostrum was higher in Na and K (0.12 and 0.11%, respectively) compared with milk after 3 days (0.02 and 0.07%). Both minerals increased after about 11-12 months to 0.186 and 0.025%, respectively. K values are similar to those of cow’s milk; elephant Na values are lower. Mg showed a similar trend to Na, starting at 0.007% and stabilizing at 0.014%. Both Ca and P were low in colostrum (0.034 and 0.019%), then increased to 0.12 and 0.05% in African elephant milk; values for Ca and P were about about double those values when measured in Asian elephant milks (0.1% and 0.06% vs 0.22% and 0.12% for P at 2 and 28 months, respectively; Abbondanza et al. 2013).  Mineral needs increase with growth/lactation. 

Table 4.4 Changes in milk composition.jpg
Table 4.5 Select fatty acids in elephant milk compared to other species.jpg
Table 4.6  Milk composition across different speces.jpg

Although actual elephant milks will always be the preferred substitute for hand-rearing elephants, given the similarities in lactose and oligosaccharides between elephant and human milks, human milk replacers should be considered appropriate substitutes for early-stage lactation with lactose as a primary source of energy for the calf.  By the second month, however, added fats in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs, and particularly capric and lauric acids) should be considered as a supplement to formulas, with perhaps lactase enzyme added (although no work has been conducted to date looking at lactase enzyme activity in elephants).   Human pre-term infant formulas often contain 25 to 50% MCT compared to mature milks with 8-10%. Goat milk, which is being successfully fed to calves in an African elephant orphanage, contains 30-35% MCT  (Strzalkowska et al., 2009) compared to typical cow’s milk (15-20% MCT; (Moate et al., 2007), and may offer some advantages if available. However, cow milk replacers, which may be more readily available for a longer period of time, can also be supplemented with MCT and/or coconut oil to add fat as an energy source, and to better duplicate lipid profiles currently determined for mid- and late-lactation elephant milks. (Table 4.5)

Human milk replacers are suitable for very young calves but should be

supplemented with coconut oil for calves two months and older. 

Choosing a Formula

An elephant milk replacer should be selected based upon nutrient composition (see Table 4.1), but also age, health, and response of calf to be fed (i.e. to match stage of lactation changes (Table 4.4), previous history of use at the facility, as well as long term local availability, economics and logistics. For example, if clean water sources are limited for using powdered substitutes, fresh, full-fat livestock milks (cow, goat) may by necessity form the basis of the calf’s diet. 


Based on compositional data, and barring the use of actual elephant milks, human milk replacers appear to provide the best option for very young elephant calves due to the higher lactose content and oligosaccharides present in formula designed for human babies, and have been widely used throughout the world. Lactose-free formulations (i.e. Enfamil Prosobee and Pregestimil), designed with soy-based proteins, have been successfully fed to elephant calves with apparent lactose intolerances. Nonetheless, human formulae are typically more dilute compared with elephant milks (13 to 15% solids versus 15 to 20% solids in elephant milks), and lower in overall protein and fat content, with a radically different fatty acid profile.  


Supplemental protein can be added to human formulas (see Table 4.7); suggest the use of casein rather than whey proteins if available. Once the calf is readily accepting formula and appropriate growth rates are achieved, reconstituting human milk formula with a slightly higher % solids to water (i.e. 175-200 versus 150 g powder per liter of water) would increase protein, fat, and carbohydrate (thus energy) concentrations accordingly. Addition of medium chain triglycerides, such as those found in coconut oil (15-20 g/liter), as the calf ages serves to increase energy density and alter fatty acid profiles more in line with those documented in elephant milks. Any changes in formula composition should be made slowly to allow the animal to adapt physiologically with constant monitoring.


After the initial month or so, as the calf gains strength and its gut microbiota becomes more established, milk compositional data suggest that lactose may not be tolerated as well as initially. At this time, the calf may benefit from addition of lactase to the formula, or a gradual shift away from human-based milk replacers altogether towards bovine or goat milk. Recent successes in rearing African elephant calves with goat’s milk should be investigated in more detail. Goat milk differs distinctly from cow and human milks in composition, nutrition, and therapeutic constituents. In addition to containing higher levels of medium chain fatty acids (caproic, caprylic and capric acid), goat milk fat globules and casein micelles are smaller and more readily digestible (Yadav et al. 2016). Similar to cow’s milk, goat milk contains higher levels of protein as well as minerals (Ca, Mg, P) that may be beneficial for rapidly growing young calves compared to human milks. 


On a dry basis, typical cow milk replacement powders contain 20 to 22% protein, and up to 20% fat; new developments in dairy calf milk replacers are tending to increase protein content (using soy protein) up to 32%, but with a concurrent drop in fat  (Erickson and Kalscheur, 2020). If cow milk replacers are considered, try to select a product containing full-fat, rather than skimmed, milk ingredients as the elephant will benefit from the added lipid energy.  


Four examples of supplemented formula blends for elephant calves in Asia can be found in Table 4.7.  

Table 4.7 Examples of blended diets fed to Asian elephant calves.jpg

Coprophagy (eating dung)

It is normal for young calves (~3-4 months of age)to ingest dung from adult elephants. This helps to establish the normal gastrointestinal flora. Ingestion of dung from healthy adults should be encouraged. See Figure 4.6

Monitoring Growth 

Weighing is the most accurate way to monitor growth. Very young or sick calves should be weighed daily, transitioning to weekly weighing as the calf grows and stabilizes. 

Calves should gain 0.5 – 1.4 kg/day during the first year of life.

Figure 4.6 Ingestion of dung by young calves helps to establish a health gastrointestinal

Figure 4.6: Ingestion of dung by young calves is normal.

A large capacity digital

Figure 4.7: Large-capacity digital scale.





Literature Cited

Abbondanza, F.N., Power, M.L., Dickson, M.A., Brown, J., Oftedal, O.T., 2013. Variation in the Composition of Milk of Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) Throughout Lactation. Zoo Biology 32, 291-298.

Abdou, H., Marichatou, H., Beckers, J.F., Dufrasne, I., Hornick, J.L., 2012. Physiology of the production and chemical composition of colostrum of domestic animals. Annales Dr Medecine Veterinaire 156, 87-98.

Dierenfeld, E.S., Han, Y.A.M., Mar, K.U., Aung, A., Soe, A.T., Lummaa, V., Lahdenperä, M., 2020. Milk Composition of Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) in a Natural Environment in Myanmar during Late Lactation. Animals (Basel)10.

Emanuelson, K., 2006. Neonatal care and hand rearing. In: Fowler, M.A., Mikota, S.K. (Eds.), Elephant Biology Medicine, and Surgery. Blackwell, 233-241.

Emanuelson, K.A., Kinzley, C., 2002. Elephants (Hand-rearing). In: Gage, L. (Ed.), Hand-Rearing Wild abd Domestic Mammals. Iowa State University Press, Ames, IO, 221-228.

Erickson, P.S., Kalscheur, K.F., 2020. Nutrition and feeding of dairy cattle.

Ilmberger, N., Guellert, S., Dannenberg, J., Rabausch, U., Torres, J., Wemheuer, B., Alawi, M., Poehlein, A., Chow, J., Turaev, D., Rattei, T., Schmeisser, C., Salomon, J., Olsen, P.B., Daniel, R., Grundhoff, A., Borchert, M.S., Streit, W.R., 2014. A Comparative Metagenome Survey of the Fecal Microbiota of a Breast- and a Plant-Fed Asian Elephant Reveals an Unexpectedly High Diversity of Glycoside Hydrolase Family Enzymes. PLoS ONE 9, e106707.

Kambe, J., Sasaki, Y., Inoue, R., Tomonaga, S., Kinjo, T., Watanabe, G., Jin, W., Nagaoka, K., 2020. Analysis of infant microbiota composition and the relationship with breast milk components in the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) at the Zoo. J Vet Med Sci.

Kinzley, C., 1997. The Elephant Hand Raising Notebook.  Oakland CA, Oakland CA.

Kinzley, C.E., Emanuelson, K.A., 2004. Supplemental feeding and hand-raising of calves. In: Olsen, D. (Ed.), Elephant Husbandry Resource Guide. American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Silver Spring, Maryland, 151-157.

Kobeni, S., Osthoff, G., Madende, M., Hugo, A., Marabini, L., 2020. The Dynamic Changes of African Elephant Milk Composition over Lactation. Animals (Basel) 10.

Kunz, C., Rudloff, S., Schad, W., Braun, D., 1999. Lactose-derived oligosaccharides in the milk of elephants: Comparison with human milk. British Journal of Nutrition 82, 391-399.

Mainka, S.A., Cooper, R.M., Black, S.R., Dierenfeld, E.S., 1994. Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) milk composition during the first 280 days of lactation. Zoo Biology 13, 389-393.

McCallaugh, K.G., Widdowson, E.M., 1970. The milk of the African elephant. Br. J. Nutr. 24, 109-117.

McGee, J.L., Wiedner, E., Isaza, R., 2014. Prenatal passive transfer of mycobacterium tuberculosis antibodies in asian elephant (Elephas maximus) calves. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 45, 955-957.

Moate, P., Chalupa, W., Boston, R.C., Lean, I.J., 2007. Milk Fatty Acids. I. Variation in the Concentration of Individual Fatty Acids in Bovine Milk. Animal Science Papers and Reports 27, 311-320.

Nofs, S.A., Atmar, R.L., Keitel, W.A., Hanlon, C., Stanton, J.J., Tan, J., Flanagan, J.P., Howard, L., Ling, P.D., 2013. Prenatal passive transfer of maternal immunity in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology 153, 308-311.

Osthoff, G., De Waal, H.O., Hugo, A., de, W.M., Botes, P., 2005. Milk composition of a free-ranging African elephant (Loxodonta africana) cow during early lactation 593. Comp Biochem. Physiol A Mol. Integr. Physiol 141, 223-229.

Osthoff, G., de Wit, M., Hugo, A., Kamara, B.I., 2007. Milk composition of three free-ranging African elephant (Loxodonta africana africana) cows during mid lactation. Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol 148, 1-5.

Osthoff, G., Dickens, L., Urashima, T., Bonnet, S.L., Uemura, Y., van der Westhuizen, J.H., 2008. Structural characterization of oligosaccharides in the milk of an African elephant (Loxodonta africana africana). Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol 150, 74-84.

Strzalkowska, N., Jozawik, A., Bagnicka, E., Krzyzewski, J., Horbanczuk, K., Pyzel, B., Horbanczuk, J.O., 2009. Chemical composition, physical traits and fatty acid profile of goat milk as related to the stage of lactation., Animal Science Papers and Reports. 311-320.

Takatsu, Z., Tsuda, M., Yamada, A., Matsumoto, H., Takai, A., Takeda, Y., Takase, M., 2017. Elephant's breast milk contains large amounts of glucosamine. J Vet Med Sci.

Uemura, Y., Asakuma, S., Yon, L., Saito, T., Fukuda, K., Arai, I., Urashima, T., 2006. Structural determination of the oligosaccharides in the milk of an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) 412. Comp Biochem. Physiol A Mol. Integr. Physiol 145, 468-478.

Uruakpa, F.O., Ismond, M.A.H., Akobundu, E.N.T., 2002. Colostrum and its benefits: a review. Nutrition Research 22, 755-767.

Weber, M.A., Miller, M.A., 2012. Elephant Neonatal and Pediatric Medicine. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine Current Therapy, Volume 7. Saunders, Philadelphia PA, 531-536.

bottom of page