So, how do you feed an elephant? You say the magic word "bon" in a firm voice and miraculously these amazing animals open their mouths, tilt their heads and trunks up, and expose their fleshy pink tongue. You gingerly at first, and then with more confidence, place the piece of food in and onto the tongue, and then withdraw your hand as quickly as you can. All while trying to keep out from under their feet, duck their trunk, and in my case - tusks, and try to look cool and smile for the camera. If you don't get the timing right you then have to remove your hand from a very firm, but gummy grip, wipe off the slobber then start again with the next piece of food. Luckily for us, elephants teeth are located further back in their mouths, so it is hard for them to bite you.
Elephants eat approximately 300 kilograms of food each day. The bananas and sugar cane we give them being but a snack or reward for the work they are doing. Serious eating happens later with grass, banana leaves and bamboo leaves all part of the menu. As Benz assured us, eat like an elephant, be healthy like an elephant and live a long time.
So, next part of the lesson in elephant care....how do you tell if an elephant is healthy? You look for any or all of the following: dust marks along their side which indicates they lay down to sleep. With such a weight to move around, lying down is tricky so a sick elephant generally won't bother and as such will sleep standing up.
The best indicator however, is the good old elephant poo test. This is multi part. First you count the poo "balls". Six to nine balls of poo is a good number, indicating that food is moving through the animals system correctly. Four or less is an indicator that something isn't quite right. Then you look at the consistency of the poo. If it is firm and even in texture all is good. Uneven sized pieces within the poo can indicate that the elephants teeth are not working as they should. Tis may be from age or other causes. Moisture level is also important from the perspective of the amount of liquid contained within the poo. A healthy elephants poo will drip liquid if squeezed. I know this from watching Benz demonstrate, not by testing for myself. The final indicator is the smell, and yes, I did sniff elephant poo. It was totally unlike anything I have come across to date. Very sweet and grassy. Thank goodness for that. A large stinky elephant poo would be too much to cope with!