Gorillas living in captivity are prone to heart disease, specifically Western lowland gorillas. The males are dying from heart problems prematurely. In 1994 a study of 74 captive gorilla deaths found that 41 percent were caused by heart disease. The number one killer of gorillas in captivity is heart disease, as it is for Americans. After a 21 year old gorilla died in Cleveland, researchers there began to investigate the causes. Today they are feeding gorillas a diet more like they would eat in the wild.
Two male gorillas in Cleveland have lost about 65 pounds on a new diet including endive, romaine lettuce, green beas, alfala hay, dandelion greens, flax seeds and multivitamins. They eat about 10 pounds of this green leafy salad every day.
On their old sugary, starchy diet they were overweight and less mobile. They were also vomiting their own food, and re-consuming it and plucking their own hair, and eating that too. The new low-sugar diet eliminated those unusual behaviors. The Cleveland gorillas will be monitored carefully and if they remain healthy, the Gorilla Species Survival Plan may recommend all gorillas in North America go on a high fiber, foraging diet like the one used in Cleveland. (Imagine also if more humans in North America would adopt this diet and what might happen to the heart disease rate.)
A related study at the Denver Zoo is using ultrasound to gather accurate data about their gorillas’ heart health. It is just part of a project across North America involving 470 gorillas, orangutans, and chimps.
Image Credit: Adrian Pingstone