heart disease in gorillas

silverback gorilla by Richard Ruggiero
silverback gorilla by Richard Ruggiero

Heart disease doesn’t just hit humans. It’s the leading killer among male zoo gorillas, and scientists want to know why. Obesity? Perhaps, but the term has yet to be defined for the primates. Diet? Likely, and Elena Hoellein Less of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is trying to prove it. As part of a multi-zoo study, she’s been feeding her two gorillas, Bebac and Mokolo, a trial menu meant to mimic the largely vegetarian one eaten in the wild. Heavy on leafy greens, the new diet is also modeled after a heart-healthy human one, says Less. Judging by the 65 pounds each of her charges has shed so far, it’s nothing to take lightly.
~ Catherine Zuckerman
(National Geographic, August 2011)

18 thoughts on “heart disease in gorillas”

  1. Hi,
    Very interesting, but it will be very hard I think to work out why the gorillas are getting heart disease. Do they know if gorillas get heart disease in the wild as well?

    The 2 gorillas that they are doing the trials on, even if they don’t develop heart disease it really doesn’t prove anything, regardless of what they ate, they may never had got the disease. A bit of a catch 22 situation I feel.

    1. It gets very complicated sorting out all the possible factors that could contribute to the incidence of heart disease. For all we know, the stress of captivity could be a major risk factor… It would probably be enlightening to compare the heart disease rates of wild and captive gorillas.

  2. Oh, wow. I didn’t know that. So interesting. I wish for the apes and our species a better health. It’s a challenge but we can all do it. Thanks for sharing my friend. God bless you and your family.

    1. You’re welcome, my friend. If the more natural diet is causing the gorillas to lose weight it is most likely beneficial for their hearts and their general well-being.

    1. You’re welcome, Laurie. Same here, heart disease in animals never occurred to me before either – I happened to read this in the waiting room while Tim was in a doctor visit and it struck me. Since then I have heard of a morbidly obese cat having a fatal heart attack, too.

  3. I am surprised to learn that zoos haven’t ALWAYS tried to feed their gorillas a diet that mimics what they would eat in the wild.

    1. It seems like feeding gorillas a natural diet would have been the logical choice for their meal plan. But perhaps gorillas are like us and don’t mind (or even prefer) eating unhealthy foods. If the unnatural diet is preferred and less expensive I can see why the zoo would choose it for them. But that choice was evidently short-sighted…

    1. Sheryl, you made me think of a cartoon I saw being passed around on Facebook recently. A chubby character was about to eat a hamburger and his slender companion cautioned him, “Remember, you are what you eat.” The character then replies, “What I need to eat is a skinny person.” 🙂

    1. That’s an interesting question, Amy-Lynn.

      One of Tim’s cardiologists told him that heart disease is 50% cheeseburger and 50% family history. But it has to be a far more complex interaction of risk factors, I believe, for all of us primates…

    1. Welcome to *By the Sea,* Suzanne! I never knew this about gorillas either before I picked up that National Geographic magazine!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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