Orangutans die of heart disease in captivity

Orangutans, apes and chimpanzees die of heart disease in captivity

Human beings are very funny things sometimes.  I read an article this week on how there is a movement in US Zoos to find a cure or treatment for the heart disease that decimates apes in captivity.  Apes are naturally immune to our modern diseases in the wild.  Is this a mystery?  No, their diet, lifestyle and environment changes when in captivity.

The Orangutan Diet (in the wild)

  • 100% raw
  • 50% fruit
  • 40% leafy green blossoms
  • 10% seeds, nuts, bark, insects…
  • They consume around 300 grams of fibre daily (we consume 15g)

Do we feed them this in captivity? 
No.  We feed them a cheap mix of all kinds of foods but ignore their natural habitat foods such as the leafy green vegetables, roots, tubers and stems.  In the wild, gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees eat a lean, fresh, healthy vegetarian diet with protein concentrations similar to the American Heart Association’s recommendations of 17% of their total energy intake.  At The Great Ape Heart Project at Atlanta Zoo, there are many good people doing wonderful things.  They are studying why heart problems are the No. 1 killer of orangutans, gorillas and other apes living in captivity, yet in the wild they do not suffer heart disease.

A Director of Veterinary Services at Zoo Atlanta was quoted as saying “We don’t really know what is causing it [the orangutans’ heart disease].  Once we can understand that, hopefully we can treat it.  Our ultimate goal would be to prevent it in these amazing animals, these endangered species.  We’re really trying hard to get a handle on this.”

Over one third of chimpanzees in captivity die of heart disease.

Heart disease is a ‘human environment’ condition
Like I said, these people are dedicated and with their hearts in the right places (forgive the pun) but to me it is obvious.  Taking a wild animal that has evolved and lived for centuries on freshly-picked leafy green blossoms, vegetables, fruits, seeds, bark, nuts, roots, tubers, stems and the occasional bug, and then feeding them popcorn and grape juice (amongst other things), is a recipe for disaster.  Popcorn, when air popped and with extra-virgin olive oil and a little good quality salt on top, is a good ‘sometime snack’ but it is not exactly what they naturally eat in the wild is it?  Ever seen an orangutan light a fire, pick popcorn, get it ready for popping then hold it over the fire, while squeezing grapes into a cup before drinking grape juice?

Let’s ask a couple of heart experts their opinion.

“Heart disease is a food borne illness.  99% of heart disease is preventable by changing your diet and lifestyle”
Dean Ornish, M.D., Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California.

“Despite having a high genetic risk for heart disease, a healthy lifestyle can actually turn off the gene - with raw fruits and vegetables having the biggest positive impact.  We often think of genetic factors as being unmodifiable factors but lifestyle factors can actually change the genes.  We observed that the effect of a high-risk genotype can be mitigated by consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables”
Dr. Sonia Anand, lead author and Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University commenting on a study published in the October 2011 online edition of the journal PLoS Medicine from research on more than 27,000 people of five ethnicities of Arab, European, Chinese, Latin American and South Asian looking at heart disease.  

Posted: Saturday 19 May 2012