The digestive system is one of the most important systems in an animal’s body. It is responsible for breaking down food into smaller particles and extracting nutrients that the body needs to function properly. This process is essential for the survival of animals, as it provides them with the energy and resources they need to carry out their daily activities. In this blog, we will explore the varying digestive systems of African animals and why they have these different digestion methods.
Three basic types of digestion
- Ruminant – multi-compartmented stomach
- Hindgut fermentor – simple stomach, but very large and complex large intestine
- Monogastric – simple stomach
African animals have adapted to their environment in various ways, including their digestive systems. This is due to the differences in the types of food available to them, as well as the challenges they face in obtaining and digesting that food. Let’s take a closer look at the digestive systems of a few herbivores and a predator to see how they differ to benefit each species.
The buffalo is a herbivorous animal that primarily feeds on grass. Its digestive system is designed to break down the tough and fibrous material that makes up the majority of its diet.
The buffalo has a four-chambered stomach that allows it to break down and ferment tough plant material more efficiently. This process is known as rumination and takes place in the first two chambers of the stomach, where bacteria break down cellulose, a carbohydrate found in plant material, into simpler compounds that the buffalo can digest. The buffalo then regurgitates the partially digested food, known as cud, and chews it again before swallowing it. From here the food then passes on to the third and fourth stomach to be digested further.
The benefit of the ruminant digestive system for buffalo is that it allows them to obtain nutrients from plant material that is otherwise indigestible to other animals. The microorganisms in the rumen are able to break down the cellulose and other complex carbohydrates into usable forms of energy, allowing buffalo to survive on a diet of tough, fibrous vegetation.
The zebra is a herbivorous animal and unlike ruminants, zebras have a hindgut fermentation digestive system. With this digestive system, the zebra’s food passes through the small intestine where some nutrients are absorbed and then moves on to the cecum, which is a large pouch-like structure located at the beginning of the large intestine. The cecum is populated with bacteria and other microorganisms, which help to break down the fibrous plant material into simpler molecules that the zebra can digest. The partially digested food then moves on to the colon, where more nutrients are absorbed.
The benefit of the hindgut fermentation digestive system for zebras is that it allows them to digest and obtain nutrients from tough, fibrous plant material, which is abundant in their natural habitat. Additionally, the cecum and colon in zebras are relatively large compared to other animals, allowing for a more efficient breakdown of plant material.
The Wild Dog
The wild dog is a carnivorous animal and like other carnivores, the species has a monogastric digestive system, meaning that it has a single-chambered stomach.
The wild dog’s digestive system works by breaking down food into smaller particles through mechanical and chemical digestion. Once in the stomach, the food is mixed with digestive juices and acids, which further break down the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The digested food then moves into the small intestine, where the nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to the body’s cells.
The benefit of the monogastric digestive system for wild dogs is that it allows for the quick and efficient digestion of meat. This is especially important for wild dogs, which have to hunt and scavenge for their food in the wild.
The digestive systems of African animals have evolved to meet the unique challenges of their environment and diet. The buffalo’s four-chambered stomach and process of rumination allow it to extract as many nutrients as possible from the tough plant material it eats. On the other hand, the zebra’s long, complex digestive tract and specialized cecum, also allow these animals to gain as much nutrition from the vegetation that they eat. Finally, the monogastric digestive system of wild dogs is well-suited to their carnivorous diet and provides them with a quick and efficient way to obtain the nutrients they need to support their hunting lifestyle and survive in the wild.