In the U.S., even zoo gorillas need to switch to a heart-healthy diet.
"A lot are dying of heart disease, we believe like humans," said Elena Hoellein Less, a PhD candidate in biology at Case Western Reserve University.
In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of male Western lowland gorillas the only species of gorillas in North American zoos.
After Brooks, a 21-year-old gorilla, died of heart failure at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in 2005, Less and other researchers here took a hard look at how the animals' lifestyle affects their health. Less now leads an effort to counter the killer disease by returning the primates to a diet more akin to what they'd eat in the wild.
Gone is the bucketful of vitamin-rich, high-sugar and high-starch foods that zoos used for decades to ensure gorillas received enough nutrients.
Instead, Cleveland's Mokolo and Bebac receive a wheelbarrow of romaine lettuce, dandelion greens and endive they gently tear and bite, alfalfa hay they nimbly pick through, young tree branches they strip of succulent bark and leaves, green beans, a handful of flax seeds, and three Centrum Silver multivitamins tucked inside half a smashed banana.
Instead of spending about a quarter of their day eating the old diet, the pair now spends 50 to 60 percent of each day feeding and foraging, about the same amount of time wild gorillas forage.
Although they take in twice as many calories on the new diet, after a year, the big boys of the primate house have dropped nearly 65 pounds each and weigh in the range of their wild relatives.
"We're beginning to understand we may have a lot of overweight gorillas," said Kristen Lukas, an adjunct assistant professor of biology at Case Western Reserve and chair of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The organization serves 52 zoos in the U.S. and Canada in a coordinated effort to improve the health
|Contact: Kevin Mayhood|
Case Western Reserve University