Tuesday, January 31
Wild orangutans have incredibly interesting diets. They have been observed eating a wide variety of foods including leaves, bark, flowers, termites, as well as soil for the essential minerals it can supply. But the main staple of their daily diet is fruit. Because of this, we classify orangutans as fruit eaters, or “frugivores.” Wild orangutans have been known to eat from well over 200 different species of plant in their lifetime. The orangutan needs to have an understanding of what part of the plants are edible, what time of year those fruits will be available, and how best to access the fruits if they happen to be encased in rinds or spines.
In a zoo, orchard-grown fruit, or the fruit available in your local supermarket, has been bred to serve a specific culinary purpose. Orchard-grown fruits are typically higher in sugar, so that they are more pleasing to the human palate (imagine the difference between an apple from the grocery store and a crabapple). Often times, this can lead to a decline in other important nutrients a frugivore might need. In order to meet the dietary needs for a frugivore through orchard-grown fruit alone, we would be feeding those animals a diet with way too much sugar, which could create health concerns in the future. So how does a zookeeper make up for what the supermarket might be missing?
In addition to the wide variety of fruits and other produce the orangutans enjoy here at Zoo Atlanta, they also enjoy vitamin and mineral-packed primate biscuits. Here at Zoo Atlanta, we use similar biscuits for many of our animals. They are a simple answer for any dietary needs that cannot be met by the varieties of store-bought produce the orangutans enjoy each day.
Our apes and monkeys eat a few different types of primate biscuits. The “Mazuri L/S Biscuit” is one of the staples of our orangutan diets. The biscuits are made primarily from soybean materials and dried beet pulp. They are low in starch and contain high amounts of fiber. They also fulfill the orangutans’ modest protein requirements. If I know you, reader, at this point you have one question on your mind:
“But Mike, how do they taste?” (Read: I ate some.) They are dry, so most of the orangutans prefer to enjoy theirs soaked in water or fruit juice first. I would describe the taste as being almost like a black tea in cracker form. They usually come with some kind of extra flavoring mixed in (cinnamon is the best flavor).
I hope you appreciate the research I do for you, reader. Even more so, I hope the orangutans do!
Keeper II, Primates