Male and female western gorilla diet: Preferred foods, use of fallback resources, and implications for ape versus old world monkey foraging strategies



Most of what is currently known about western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) diet is based on indirect studies using fecal samples and trail signs rather than measures based on direct observations. Here we report results on adult male and female western gorilla foraging behavior, based on systematic focal observations and nutritional analyses of foods. We found that western gorillas, like other apes, are highly selective ripe fruit specialists, seeking fruit high in energy, low in antifeedants, and rare in the environment. During seasonal fruiting peaks, fruit accounted for up to 70% of feeding time. When ripe fruit was scarce, gorillas increased time spent feeding on leaves and nonpreferred fruits and herbs. Leaves were the major fallback food, accounting for up to 70% of feeding time in males and 50% in females during periods of fruit scarcity. In spite of large differences in body size, the sexes were remarkably similar in their overall diet, not differing in time spent feeding on fruit or preferred herbs. However, the male consistently fed more often and on a greater variety of leaves than did females, whereas females fed more often on fallback herbs and termites. Our findings, when considered in light of previous findings on sympatric mangabeys, indicate that the foraging strategy of western gorillas is broadly similar to that of chimpanzees and orangutans, and distinct from that of old world monkeys. Am J Phys Anthropol 140:727–738, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.