‘Eat Like a Gorilla for a Day’ by Betsy Herrelko

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Caregiver’s Corner:

Free-living gorillas are often on the move looking for food. Eating from at least 97 different species of plants and trees, an adult male can consume over 40 pounds of food in one day. At the Gorilla Foundation, with selections from a variety of 190 different foods and more than 20 people spending many hours over the course of a week planning and preparing meals, Koko and Ndume don’t need to exert as much energy making sure they have enough to eat. Even though we hide food for each of them to search for and find throughout the day, the energy they expend is less than their free-living cousins and so the amount of food they require is less.

In addition to this difference, we have discovered certain food sensitivities that influence the way we prepare meals. For example, Koko’s diet does not currently include nightshade vegetables– tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes¬–and Ndume’s diet is gluten-free.

Caloric restrictions also help shape the meals. Still, we are able to be resourceful and creative with the produce and presentation. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to eat like a gorilla? We invite you to eat like a gorilla for a day with a sample from Koko’s meal history (the total weight for each meal is divided among the ingredients with quantities larger for the lower calorie items).

Koko starts the day with a hearty breakfast, followed by a light lunch, a bountiful tray of greens in the middle of the afternoon, a light dinner, and an additional tray of greens that she can snack on after bedtime.

Koko’s Breakfast (2.5 to 3 lbs total, approximately 900 calories)
— 2/3 cup of cooked whole grain cereal (currently quinoa)
— 1/4 cup of cooked lentils or beans
— 4 oz. of alfalfa sprouts
— 2 fresh figs, an apple, orange or one of a wide variety of other fruits
— Raw green beans and/or 1/2 cucumber
— 2 cups of cooked mixed vegetables
— 1/10 of an organic or raw food bar

Koko’s Lunch (1.5 lb total, approximately 450 calories)
— Raw or steamed butternut squash
— Raw or steamed broccoli
— Organic banana peel with 1” of banana inside
— Avocado slice
— Raw corn on the cob (1/2 cob)
— Protein of the day (4 oz.)
— Tamarind pod
— Dark (85%) chocolate square (1/2 ounce)

Home to a special main-event vegetable (or several smaller main-event vegetables), the afternoon greens tray is an early afternoon highlight. We select the best-looking vegetable(s) available, preferably items Koko hasn’t had in a few days, like cabbage, jicama, tiny pumpkin, fennel bulb, large leek, etc. All vegetables on the tray are raw and always whole–raw because Koko likes to eat crunchy foods and because they do a great job cleaning her teeth, and whole because, well, have you seen how large a gorilla mouth is?

Koko’s Afternoon Greens Tray (3 to 3.5 lbs total, approximately 450 calories)
— 1 bunch parsley
— 1 bunch dill
— 1 bunch cilantro
— Raw fennel bulb with green top
— Carrot
— 6 grapes
— Head of lettuce

Koko’s Dinner (1 lb total, approximately 300 calories)
— Steamed 1/4 onion
— Steamed small sweet potato
— Steamed asparagus (4)
— Steamed garlic cloves (2)
— Steamed zucchini squash
— Apple
— Sandwich – millet bread with peanut butter and mango slices

Koko’s Evening Greens Tray (3 to 3.5 lbs total, approximately 420 calories)
— 1 bunch mint
— 1 bunch chives
— 1 whole celery
— 1 English cucumber
— 2 lettuce heads (Romaine, escarole, etc.)
— 1 artichoke

Even though we generally provide Koko and Ndume with foods that we know they like, sometimes there are leftovers. We record the weight and types of these and use the resulting data on their changing food preferences to inform meal planning and help monitor their health.
Koko has told us that what gorillas like to do best is “Eat good.” In the interest of providing as diverse a diet as possible and enriching their lives, we introduce novel foods often. If a newly-introduced item is rejected, we wait awhile and try again. For Ndume, the third time is often the charm. For Koko, we sometimes try offering the same item cooked instead of raw.

A satisfied gorilla is a happy gorilla and that is certainly our goal in the kitchen at the Gorilla Foundation.

Special Acknowledgement: The Gorilla Foundation would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our esteemed ‘produce volunteers’ (coordinated by Colleen Champion, our staff Food Prep Manager) who help prepare these wonderful meals for the gorillas. Such dedicated people enable us to provide the best possible care and enrichment for gorillas Koko and Ndume.