Feast Your Eyes: Time-Lapse Video Shows 6 Million Calories Consumed in Just 2 Minutes

Posted by Nicola Twilley

According to New Scientist, there are an estimated 6 million calories in an elephant—or "enough energy to keep a human sated for over 8 years." This incredible time-lapse video, taken from a Channel 4 documentary called The Elephant: Life After Death, shows wild animals in Kenya's Tsavo West National Park devouring all 6 million of those calories over the course of seven days.

Biologist Simon Watt, who presents the documentary, wanted to show the way the food chain works in the wild, where "something the size of an elephant carcass is a buffet for every creature in the area."

The shoot was both intense (apparently the smell of the carcass was all-but impossible to wash off) and revelatory. In an interview on Channel 4's website, Watt explains that part of the fascination lay in seeing "this social hierarchy form in a concentric circle around the carcass."

The king and queens and the hard hyenas—here was a similar thing amongst the vultures—get prime positions in the front. The scraps around the edges are for the more cautious and scared animals, like jackals, which just have to take what they can get and make off with it.

But this is the order you need; you need the hyenas because the jackals do not have the apparatus and tools to get in at the soft belly. They need the hyenas to get in there first and rip it open. Otherwise, it is just a big, wrapped meal they can't get at.

Perhaps the most striking detail is the importance of maggots to the food chain: 

It makes you realize that most of the donkey work is done by the smallest things—maggots. It really surprised me; I'd never been near that quantity of maggots before. You could hear them 10 meters (33 feet) from the carcass. You'd hear a rustling like leaves or a crisp [chip] packet and that was the sound of a million mouths munching. You imagine it to be bedlam and chaos, but each maggot had its own little patch.

For humans, it seems there is much to learn from the way other species eat. If only our own dining habits more closely resembled this ritualized and cooperative waste-free inter-species buffet.

Video clip from The Elephant: Life After Death, a Channel 4 documentary, via New Scientist.