The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


Diet, behavior and nutrition in captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla): Implications for chronic disease in apes and humans

B. KATHERINE SMITH and MELISSA J. REMIS.

Anthropology, Purdue University

Thursday 4:45-5:00, Galleria South Add to calendar

This work examines the discrepancies between diets and dietary adaptations among captive gorillas and humans living in post-industrial societies with an eye towards understanding the effects of fiber, tannins and a sedentary lifestyle. Recent medical research has emphasized the human health benefits of high levels of dietary fiber and tannins, likely integral parts of hominid diets. Here we examine the diet, nutrition and behavior of captive gorillas. Zoo gorillas are uniquely situated for anthropological research as their daily experiences compare to post-industrial humans with low activity levels and readily available, calorie-dense, low fiber and tannin diets. Moreover, both captive gorillas and post-industrial humans suffer from chronic diet-related diseases including obesity and heart disease. We first conducted a survey to analyze current zoo gorilla diets and found captive diets are significantly lower (F=52.45, p< 0.01) in fiber and higher in calories (T=-3.69, p< 0.001) than wild diets. We also introduced experimental high fiber and tannin rich diets to gorillas at the Oklahoma City Zoo. When fed their typical diets, they foraged less and rested more than wild gorillas (x²=31.19, p<.001) and exhibited more abnormal feeding behaviors than when fed the experimental diets (x²=30.62, p<.001). We expect to see improvement in health biomarkers with the experimental diets. As among humans, chronic health issues in zoo gorillas may relate to sedentary lifestyles and their low-fiber, tannin poor diets relative to wild and ancestral diets, leading us to propose the usefulness of comparative, evolutionary approaches when considering human dietary adaptations and mismatches.

This study was funded by the Ingestive Behavior Research Center, Purdue Research Foundation, and Oklahoma City Zoo.

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