Will Probiotic Yogurt Help Edinburgh Zoo’s Chimpanzees?

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David the Chimp Enjoys His Probiotic Yogurt. Photo courtesy Edinburgh Zoo/Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Chimpanzees at Edinburgh zoo are jumping on the yogurt with probiotics bandwagon.

While they may not care about the health benefits of their new dietary addition, they certainly enjoy the taste.

Zoo staff hope the additional beneficial bacteria will help reduce digestive upsets.  Andy Beer, Nutritionist for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) spoke with Decoded Science about the challenges of keeping the chimpanzees healthy – apparently, it’s quite a task.

Chronic Digestive Upsets a Problem for Some Chimpanzees

Edinburgh is home to two groups of chimps, one of which has been resident at the zoo for many years, while the other arrived more recently from another facility after being rescued from laboratories.

The newer animals are the ones experiencing the digestive upsets. RZSS veterinary staff ran a series of tests for parasites and harmful bacteria, but no obvious culprit has been found. *RZSS veterinary staff told Decoded Science that, “Diagnostic testing has not revealed any infectious cause for the loose droppings suffered by some of the chimpanzees. We are therefore interested to see whether the use of pre/probiotics will aid their digestion.”

Chimpanzees eat large quantities of fruit in the wild, but wild fruits consist of 14% sugar and 34% fiber while domestic fruits come in at 34% sugar and only 10% fiber. The higher levels of sugar add unnecessary calories and promote growth of negative bacteria, and the fiber levels are much lower than chimpanzees require. In response to these issues, Mr. Beer initiated dietary changes to provide more fiber and reduce sugar levels. Unfortunately, the chimps’ digestive problems continued.

Edinburgh Zoo Study Will Monitor the Health of Chimps Given Probiotics

Probiotics, in particular Lactobacillus GG (Lactobacillus casei sps. Rhamnosus), are bacteria naturally found in the digestive tract which help break foods down; they also help keep numbers of harmful bacteria low. Studies of humans with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome found digestion improved in these cases when patients took probiotics.

One of Edinburgh Zoo’s Chimpanzees enjoys her probiotic yogurt. Photo courtesy Edinburgh Zoo/Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

As chimps are closely related to humans, Mr. Beer talked to the veterinary staff about the advisability giving probiotics to the chimpanzees. He then approached Onken Dairy to see if they would be interested in helping with a study to see whether feeding yogurt with probiotics to the chimps would help in cases of chronic digestive upsets. Onken is providing 6 months’ supply of the yogurt, which will allow Mr. Beer and the veterinary staff to evaluate its benefits.

It is too early to tell whether the probiotics will make a difference to the health of these chimpanzees but, as the video below shows, the animals are making sure they get every last bit of their daily dose of yogurt.

Resources:

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. Chimps go Bananas for Onken Fat Free Yoghurt. (2012). Accessed August 22, 2012.

Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Health benefits of taking probiotics. (2005). Accessed August 22, 2012.

N.L. Conklin Brittain, R.W. Wrangham and C.C. Smith. Rating Chimpanzee Diets to Potential Australopithecus Diets. (2007). Accessed August 22, 2012.

*Updated 8/24/2012 at the request of Zoo Personnel*

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