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Nutritional composition of the diet of the gorilla (Gorilla beringei): a comparison between two montane habitats

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 October 2007

Jessica M. Rothman
Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853, USA
Andrew J. Plumptre
Albertine Rift Programme, Wildlife Conservation Society, PO Box 7487, Kampala, Uganda
Ellen S. Dierenfeld
Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853, USA Nutrition Department, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, New York, 10460, USA Department of Animal Health and Nutrition, Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis, Missouri, 63110, USA
Alice N. Pell
Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853, USA


The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) lives in two geographically separated populations, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda and in three national parks spanning the Virunga mountain region in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. The altitude, climate and plant composition of these habitats differ. Our goal was to compare the diets of gorillas living in each of these habitats. The nutrients in staple foods and in the diets of individuals in a group of gorillas in Bwindi (N = 12 individuals) and a group in the Virungas (N = 7 individuals) were compared to determine if differences in dietary composition affected concentrations of nutrients in their diets. At both sites gorilla diets consisted primarily of herbaceous leaves, but the diet of Bwindi gorillas contained more tree leaves, fruit, pith and dry wood, and fewer stems. Despite differences in habitat and dietary composition, the nutrient concentrations in both gorilla diets were remarkably similar. On a dry matter basis, the diets and staple foods of Bwindi and Virunga gorillas contained similar concentrations of crude protein (CP), fibre (NDF) and non-structural carbohydrates (TNC). Bwindi gorillas ate diets containing 18% CP, 43% NDF and 19% TNC on a dry-matter basis, while the diets of the Virunga gorillas contained 17% CP, 41% NDF and 18% TNC. Our results demonstrate that gorillas consume diets that differ by plant species and part, but contain similar concentrations of nutrients. This suggests that classifying animals by broad dietary strategy (e.g. frugivory and folivory) does not provide a reliable indicator of the nutritional quality of their diet, and that our previous assumptions about these categories should be re-evaluated.

Research Article
2007 Cambridge University Press

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