For The Love of Bamboo

In our 31st Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas #ElephantProfessional lecture, Aislinn Butron and Kerri McCrae presented a study on the foraging ecology of semi-free-roaming Asian elephants in Northern Thailand.

A three-year study focusing on five semi-free-roaming elephants south of Chiang Mai had revealed important insights about the dietary patterns of Asian elephants, according to lecture speaker Aislinn Butron.

“The objectives of this study were to document the main folder species of semi-free-roaming elephants in a mixed-use landscape in northern Thailand,” explained Butron, “and to identify seasonal changes in consumption.”

In the study, the elephants roaming inside 4000 hectare of agricultural fields, old growth forest and successional forest had consumed a total of 165 plant species from 56 families, more than twice the variety compared to similar studies in Nepal and West Bengal India.

Using the focal sampling method, the researchers started following a single elephant at a time since 2016 and identified the type of consumption – either browsing (i.e., trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers, and bamboo) or grazing (i.e., grass) – as well as the parts of plants consumed.

The amount of time spent browsing and grazing during the year and seasonally. Screenshot from Kerri McCrae & Aislinn Butron’s lecture.

They observed that the elephants had a selective preference for plants, since six of the plant species consumed had accounted for 64% of their foraging time. Similarly, the elephants spent 44.0% of the time consuming bamboo despite it only making up of 1.2% of their total dietary range. The pattern was similar to a Burmese study but different from a few others, thus providing evidence that the consumption of Asian elephants was dependent on geographic area.

In addition, the elephants also exhibited seasonal patterns with their consumption, although they spent significantly more time browsing than grazing in all seasons.

They also found that the elephants had consumed a wide range of tree species (49.1%) and would sometimes dedicate more time for the hard-to-process tree bark presumably due to its important minerals, according to Butron.

Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary

Butron was a past intern of the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, whose five elephants contributed to this entire research. Its co-founder, Kerri McCrae, believed these researches would deepen our understanding of Asian elephants.

“It’s difficult to observe [Asian elephants] in the wild due to low population density and poor visibility,” emphasized McCrae, “our semi-wild herds provide an adequate environment to study them and their behaviour.”

The Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary is a Chiang Mai non-profit that aims at providing as natural a life as possible for the elephants, and they have other ongoing researches on elephant association, elephant behaviour and sleep patterns, according McCrae.

You can now read more about them here.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily represent Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.