The leading cause of death for male gorillas in zoos is heart disease. Sadly, animals that live in close contact with (and fed by) humans end up with human chronic diseases.
Gorillas are the largest of the primates, and they are one of the four species of great apes (great apes make up the Hominidae superfamily, which includes chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas). Following chimpanzees, gorillas are the closest living relatives to humans, differing in only about 3% of our genetic makeup.
Gorillas are herbivores that live in the forests of central Africa, where they can eat up to 50 pounds of vegetation each day, mostly leaves and fruit. Although most gorillas have a preference for fruit, they also eat large amounts of leaves, plus herbs and bamboo, and occasionally insects. In the wild, gorillas spend most of their day foraging and eating.1
In the wild, gorillas eat an extremely high fiber diet, and derive a significant proportion of caloric energy from the fermentation of fiber by bacteria in the colon, producing short-chain fatty acids . The approximate proportions of macronutrients in a wild gorilla’s diet is 2.5% of calories from fat, 24.3% from protein, 15.8% (non-fiber) carbohydrate, and up to 57.3% from short chain fatty acids derived from bacterial fermentation of fiber.2
In contrast, the standard diet for gorillas in captivity is usually not made up of natural leaves, herbs, and fruits – it is a diet of nutrient-fortified, high-sugar, high-starch processed food.
This unnatural diet has contributed to signs of heart disease and enlarged hearts for both of the male gorillas at the Cleveland Metropark Zoo. Researchers at the zoo and at Case Western University decided to change the gorillas’ diet, bringing it closer to what it would have been in the wild.
Since late 2009, the two gorillas have been eating endive, dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, green beans, alfalfa, apples, and bananas. Each of them eats about ten pounds of vegetables each day. The gorillas also spend more time eating (50-60% of their day rather than 25%), which is similar to wild foraging behavior. After one year on their new diet, each gorilla has lost about 65 pounds, their health is improving and the researchers are noting and documenting their decrease in heart disease risks.3
My question is: why were they feeding processed foods to gorillas instead of their natural food diet in the first place?
Heart disease and heart attacks are just as unnatural for a gorilla as they are for humans. I guess it is pretty low for the zookeepers to be feeding a gorilla a processed food diet for convenience that will expedite its death. How could they not know that gorillas should eat a natural diet? But how did our society develop the universal eating cult that permits and encourages the feeding of disease-causing fast food, processed food and junk food to human kids, damaging their future health potential? I guess maintaining our food addictions to processed foods are a more powerful drive than our desire to have our children be healthy. Maybe humans should not be in charge of feeding humans or animals? Maybe we should hire the gorillas to raise our children? Did you ever watch the Planet of the Apes? Okay, so maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.
1. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International: Learning About Gorillas. http://gorillafund.org/Page.aspx?pid=769
Doran-Sheehy D, Mongo P, Lodwick J, Conklin-Brittain NL. Male and female western gorilla diet: preferred foods, use of fallback resources, and implications for ape versus old world monkey foraging strategies. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009 Dec;140(4):727-38.
2. Popovich DG, Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, et al. The western lowland gorilla diet has implications for the health of humans and other hominoids. J Nutr. 1997 Oct;127(10):2000-5.
3. Case Western Reserve University (2011, February 21). Gorillas go green: Apes shed pounds while doubling calories on leafy diet, researcher finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2011/02/110217091130.htm