a1 Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore - 560 012, India,
The Asian elephant's foraging strategy in its natural habitat and in cultivation was studied in southern India during 1981–83. Though elephants consumed at least 112 plant species in the study area, about 85% of their diet consisted of only 25 species from the order Malvales and the families Leguminosae, Palmae, Cyperaceae and Gramineae. Alteration between a predominantly browse diet during the dry season with a grass diet during the early wet season was related to the seasonally changing protein content of grasses.
Crop raiding, which was sporadic during the dry season, gradually increased with more area being cultivated with the onset of rains. Raiding frequency reached a peak during October-December, with some villages being raided almost every night, when finger millet (Eleusine coracana) was cultivated by most farmers. The monthly frequency of raiding was related to the seasonal movement of elephant herds and to the size of the enclave. Of their total annual food requirement, adult bull elephants derived an estimated 9.3% and family herds 1.7% in quantity from cultivated land. Cultivated cereal and millet crops provided significantly more protein, calcium and sodium than the wild grasses. Ultimately, crop raiding can be thought of as an extension of the elephant's optimal foraging strategy.
(Accepted April 01 1988)