, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 231-249

Food Preferences Among Captive Western Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

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Abstract

I used a zoological park setting to address food preferences among gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorill) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Gorillas and chimpanzees are different sizes, and consequently, have been traditionally viewed as ecologically distinct. Sympatric western gorillas and chimpanzees have proved difficult to study in the wild. Limited field data have provided conflicting information about whether gorillas are fundamentally different from chimpanzees in diet and behavior. Fruit eating shapes the behavior of most apes, but it is unclear whether the large-bodied gorillas are an exception to this rule, specifically whether they are less selective and more opportunistic fruit eaters than chimpanzees are. My research provides experimental observational data to complement field data and to better characterize the diets and food preferences of the African apes. During laboratory research at the San Francisco Zoological Gardens, I examined individual and specific differences in food preferences of captive gorillas and chimpanzees via experimental paired-choice food trials with foods that varied in nutritional content. During the study, I offered 2500 paired-food choices to 6 individual gorillas and 2000 additional pairs to them as a group. I also proffered 600 food pairs to 4 individual chimpanzees. Despite expectations of the implications of body size differences for diet, gorillas and chimpanzees exhibited similar food preferences. Both species preferred foods high in non-starch sugars and sugar-to-fiber ratios, and low in total dietary fiber. Neither species avoided foods containing tannins. These data support other suggestions of African apes sharing a frugivorous adaptation.