Like their wild counterparts, the Grauer’s gorilla orphans living at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in Kasugho, Democratic Republic of Congo mostly eat vegetation. Since 2015, they have been able to forage for vegetation on their own inside their new forest enclosure. However, to balance the gorillas’ dietary needs and vegetation availability, we supplement a minor portion of their diet with additional foods like fruit and porridge. The porridge option worked well when gorillas were transitioning from infant formula, but since most of the gorillas are now grown, we wanted a better option for delivering nutrition since the porridge is sticky in texture and therefore not ideal for gorilla dental health.
For the past year, we’ve been working with animal nutritionist Shannon Livingston at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney veterinarian Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko to create a biscuit recipe for the GRACE gorillas to replace the porridge. Our requirements for the biscuit were: (1) it had to be packed with appropriate gorilla nutrition, (2) it needed to be easy to make, and (3) all of the ingredients had to be sourced in the remote Kasugho region. It was a challenge, but after months of teamwork and taste testing by both humans and gorillas, we successfully came up with two biscuit recipes: an avocado and a banana variety.Once the recipe was set, we then needed to bake the biscuits at GRACE. Thanks to support from the International Primatological Society (IPS), we built an oven for this project in June. Over the past few months, we have trained our animal team in the fine art of gorilla biscuit baking. They have had fun with it, and fortunately, Dalmas Kakule, GRACE’s Manager of Animal Care, is the son of a baker so he expertly led the training and even helped to design the oven.
When we offered the biscuits to the GRACE gorillas, adult female Serefuli is the only one who did not immediately gobble them up. We sometimes offer the gorillas new food when they are taking medicine, so Serefuli was right to be suspicious! But after investigating the biscuits and finding no medicine therein, she is now coming around to this new addition to the diet. We continue to fine-tune the recipe and baking technique, but overall the gorilla biscuit project appears to be a big success!
GORILLA REHABILITATION AND CONSERVATION EDUCATION (GRACE) CENTER – Founded in 2009 by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International in collaboration with the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) and Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, GRACE is the only facility in the world dedicated to providing in situ rehabilitative care for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas and ultimately aims to reintroduce gorillas back into the wild. GRACE also works with local communities, through education and other outreach programs, to help ensure the long-term survival of wild gorilla populations. Other major partners for this project include Disney, Holtzman Wildlife Foundation, and the Houston, Dallas, Nashville, Detroit, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, and Utah’s Hogle Zoos. For more information about GRACE, please visit www.gracegorillas.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. If you would like to help, please visit our secure online donation page.