Wildlife Ranching Magazine

LARGE HERBIVORE Guts

In the previous articles, we introduced the different digestive classes or categories that exist for African ungulates larger than a blue duiker. They discussed how the different classes differ with regard to what forage they select and what mechanisms they have to degrade and digest it. The second article in the series looked at two mega herbivores’ digestive strategies in more detail, namely the hippopotamus and the white rhinoceros.

BACKGROUND

T o recap, herbivores are animals that have a symbiotic relationship with a population of microbes resident in their rumens and/or caecum and colons.

The fibrous part of the ingesta gets converted to volatile fatty acids (energy) and other essential nutrients by fermentation and microbial action by the gut flora living in the foregut and/or hindgut. The most important flora are the cellulose digesting bacteria and protozoans.

The African savanna elephant and the black rhinoceros both obtain their energy by fermenting the fibrous component of their food in the hindgut of the gastrointestinal tract.

The African savanna elephant ( Loxodonta africana )

The elephant’s digestive strategy is similar to that of the domestic horse, which has a hindgut fermentation chamber that allows the animal to gain energy by microbial fermentation of fibrous material caudal to the gastric stomach.

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Ayele, W.Y., Neil, l S.D., Zinsstag, J., Weiss, M.G. & Pavlik, I., 2004. ‘Bovine tuberculosis: an old disease but a new threat to Africa.’ International journal of tuberculosis and lung disease 8, 924-937 De Vos, V., Bengis, R.G., Kriek, N.P., Michel
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