What Animals Have Vegetarian Diets?

Herbivores generally graze on plant life and can be found around the world.
Herbivores generally graze on plant life and can be found around the world. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

There are several types of animals in the world that live strictly on plants, or vegetarian diet. These animals are referred to as herbivores, or plant eaters. Herbivores differ from carnivores, which eat animals, and omnivores, which eat both plants and animals. Herbivores can be large, such as the elephant or the hippopotamus, or small, such as the rabbit or the koala. Herbivores can be herd animals, such as American bison, cows, water buffalo or zebra. All of them have the common trait of a vegetarian diet, which includes little to no animal protein.

Herbivore Diets

Although there are a few exceptions, herbivores almost exclusively eat plants. The exceptions are that some herbivores consume insects or other animal's eggs. Biologists, using new microcamera-recording technology, have discovered that even large mammal herbivores eat eggs they find on the ground. This includes the some unlikely culprits, such as elk and deer. In their dietary process, herbivores consume some insects, which count as animal proteins, but in almost insignificant dietary amounts.

Herd Animal Herbivores

There are many herd animal herbivores, such as zebra, deer, elk and bison. These animals group together for companionship and personal protection. Large herds of herbivores can usually be found on flat terrain, such as the North American prairie or the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, and are usually subject to being preyed upon by carnivores, such as lions and cougars. Domesticated herbivores, which are raised by humans, include cattle, sheep, goats and even the American bison, more commonly known as buffalo. Although not a concern with cattle or bison, sheep grazing is often an environmental problem as they consume the plants they eat from the tip to the roots, hampering further growth of the plants.

African Herbivores

African herbivores vary greatly in species and type. Baboons, monkeys, gorillas and other tree dwellers are all herbivores. The great packs of antelope, giraffe, gazelle, gnu and zebra all roam the land and exclusively eat plants in their diet. The larger herbivores are often seen in the company of other animals, such as hippopotamuses and elephants. Rhinos also are exclusive plant eaters. When the areas that herbivore pack animals inhabit experience drought, the effect can be widespread through the local animal population with sharp decreases in the herbivores and number of predators seen in the vicinity.

Herbivores to Avoid

Just because an animal is a plant eater and doesn't have natural predatory instincts doesn't mean it is safe to approach. There are certain herbivores that should be avoided at all costs in the wild. These include rhinoceroses, American bison and all of the large monkeys, such as gorillas and baboons. Interestingly enough, herbivores, such as elephants, are responsible for more zookeepers' deaths than any other type of animal. Elephants may charge when protecting their young or simply because they are in a bad mood. Thus, zookeepers and safari guides move with caution when approaching elephants. But by far the most dangerous herbivore is the hippopotamus. Hippos will trample humans they see as a threat and are responsible for killing more people than lions, elephants and rhinos combined.

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