Indian elephants are mega-herbivores and consume a wide variety of grasses, shrubs, tree stems, vines, bark and roots. The type and proportions of the plants they consume are dependent on the season and their specific habitat.
Because the population of Indian elephants is spread over a wide area of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, their habitats include grasslands, moist and dry deciduous forests, dry thorn forests, and tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. Plant food varies in each location. For instance, in southern India, elephants feed on tall grass, bamboo, palm, sedge, the bark of white thorn and other trees, and fruits such as tamarinds, dates and wood apples. In Nepal and Assam, floodplain grass makes up a large part of the elephant diet.
Adult Indian elephants eat more than 300 pounds of food per day, spending 14 to 19 hours a day feeding. They digest about 45 percent of their food, and the rest is expelled. To consume fresh tall grass, they uproot bundles, dust off the blades, eat the tops and discard the roots. Later in the season, when the tops are too fibrous, they eschew them and consume the lower portions and roots. They use their trunks to break off leaves and twigs of bushes, without being irritated by possible thorns. To feed on bark from large branches, they break off a branch and rotate it in their mouth so the bark is scraped off by their teeth.