Sunday, June 07, 2009

Diets Of Our Closest Living Relatives

Wikipedia says chimpanzees are a type of great ape (Hominidae), "the closest living relatives to humans," and are fruit-loving omnivores (they hunt lower order primates).

They say bonobos are a type of great ape, along with chimpanzees are "the closest extant [living] relatives to humans," and are primarily frugivores (fruit-eating) but "supplement their diet with leaves and hunt for meat from lower order primates."

They say gorillas are a type of great ape, "the next closest living relatives to humans after the two chimpanzee species," and that they are primarily herbivores that supplement their diet with insects.

They say orangutans are a type of great ape, next in line genetically after the gorilla, possibly "the world's most intelligent animal other than humans," and are fruit-loving foragers, consuming "leaves, shoots, seeds and bark ... insects, honey and bird eggs."

So, our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos, eat meat (and fish as I read). But the next genetically removed, gorillas and orangutans, it seems, couldn't be bothered to hunt, or so it was thought.

Since studying apes' diets in the wild is difficult, this study:
Interactions Between Zoo-Housed Great Apes And Local Wildlife, Am J Prim, 2009

... turned to zoos, asking caretakers about apes' interactions with local wildlife. Chimps and bonobos didn't surprise the researchers:
"Chimpanzees and bonobos demonstrated the most aggressive behavior toward wildlife. ... Captive gorillas and orangutans were reported to be much less likely to chase, catch and kill wildlife than chimpanzees and bonobos."
The gorillas did surprise them:
"Unlike wild gorillas, captive gorillas were reported to kill (and in one case, eat) local wildlife." (A bird.)
Orangutans were also observed hunting small game successfully.

While reading about apes and their diets, I came across this paper:
Bonobo Nutrition - Relation of Captive Diet to Wild Diet

I liked the glimpse of what bonobos are fed in zoos.

Their basic diet was a mix of carrots, tubers, celery, apples, oranges, grapes, lettuce, bananas, raisins, green beans, and other fruits and vegetables. Most items were raw, whole or cut up. Nuts, seeds, flaked grains, cooked beans, and peanuts supplemented the basics. Meat, milk, cheese, and eggs were fed occasionally. Some zoos added dog food, monkey food, and Ensure.

Many gave vitamins, e.g. Super Acerola (500 mg natural vitamin C) and Mazuri Vita-Zu brand vitamins. "Cincinnati supplemented the bonobo diet with children’s chewable multi-vitamins."

Some of the apes had weight problems and diabetes, so their food was rationed, e.g. 1 apple instead of 2, a quarter of a sweet potato instead of a whole, and 8 celery sticks instead of 6.

Bonobos at:
  • Berlin Zoo had "tea in the afternoon."
  • Leipzig Zoo had "herbal tea at 8.00 and 13.00."
  • Twycross Zoo had "skimmed milk with Ovaltine - approx. 2 pints per adult"
  • Milwaukee County Zoo had "raisins, 10 per animal." (Cruel.)
Photos: Top left: chimpanzee and bonobo (from Wikipedia). Bottom right: gorilla and orangutan (from


RB said...

Perhaps you can start a new diet fad -- "The Primate Diet". You just need to write a book.

Bix said...

The Primate Diet! Is it taken? That's the book! Mostly plants, a little meat. It's really so simple.

Oh, and "tea in the afternoon."

Perovskia said...

Haha.. I like the guy in the top left. He's just chillin', takin' in the scene.

That cracks me up about the Ensure. We feed that to our elderly patients at the hospital, man. And the tea.. geez. I don't even have words for that.

Ronald said...

The second Chimpanzee is flashing a gang symbol. The orangutan is posing for his album cover, "In a Mellow Mood".

Ensure!? Any Zoo that has to feed their animals Ensure has to admit failure of their dietary policies.

Perovskia said...

lol @ Ronald. I needed that laugh first thing in the morning. Thanks.

virginia said...

darn, it's been taken (the primate diet)!

Bix said...

Ronald ... you're funnysmart.

I love that orangutan.

Why are they feeding apes dog food? I'll do a primate diet, but I'm not eating dog food. I'll wait until I'm 87 for the Ensure.

Angela and Melinda said...

Why do they get diabetes? Not enough exercise? Too much fruit? Could it be the Ensure? Or maybe the dog food.
I also love the orangutan--he/she is so utterly at one with him/herself and the world at large.

Angela and Melinda said...

Oh, btw, I utterly freaked out some folks on my FB page w/ a link to your dietary preference post, with the picture of the boy eating stink bugs!

Elisa said...

Lovely article! Thank you!

Bix said...

Stink bugs ... Melinda, have you ever had one?

I had a pet stink bug all winter. As soon as I turned the light on next to my computer it appeared. It would walk across my keyboard as I typed. Poor flyers. So funny watching it lunge a few times to try to get a better start taking off.

Bix said...

Diabetes among the apes. Wonder what the natural incidence of this would be for them in the wild.

I'd agree with you, probably some dietary component. Bet zoo visitors feed them twinkies when no one's watching.

Angela and Melinda said...

We have stink bugs, but I've never kept one as a pet (nor eaten one). I wonder what their life-span is. Did yours finally die, or did you release it in the spring?
I was thinking further about the diabetes in apes, and wondered if it might be that they're being fed fruits & veggies that are much sweeter & less fibrous (b/c they're probably store-bought modern hybrid fruits) than what they would get in the wild.

Perovskia said...

I'm betting the natural occurrence of diabetes in apes in the wild is slim to none.