Fuller, G., Murray, A., Thueme, M. et al. 2018. Behavioral and hormonal responses to the availability of forage material in Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Zoo Biology 37(1), 23–34.
We investigated how forage material affects indicators of welfare in three male Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) at the Detroit Zoo. In addition to their maintenance diet and enrichment foods, the gorillas generally received forage material four times a week. From this baseline, we systematically manipulated how much forage material the group received on a weekly basis, with either daily or bi (twice)‐weekly presentation of browse (mulberry, Morus sp.) or alfalfa hay. We collected behavioral data (60 hr per gorilla) and measured fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM). Mixed models indicated that the presence of forage material significantly increased time feeding (F2,351 = 9.58, p < 0.001), and decreased rates of noncontact aggression (F2,351 = 3.69, p = 0.03), and regurgitation and reingestion (F2,353 = 4.70, p = 0.01). Regurgitation and reingestion were never observed during the condition when forage material was provided daily. When forage material was provided, time spent feeding was similar across gorillas, compared to a disproportionately greater amount of time spent feeding by the dominant individual when forage material was absent. Providing forage material in addition to the regular diet likely created more opportunities for equitable feeding for the subordinate gorillas. FGM concentrations did not vary based on the presence or type of forage material available and, instead, likely reflected group social dynamics. In general, alfalfa and mulberry had similar impacts on behavior, indicating that alfalfa can be an adequate behavioral substitute during times when browse is less readily available for gorillas housed in seasonally variable climates.