Can Gorillas Eat Meat?

gorilla holding a fern

We frequently receive questions pertaining Giant Apes’ diet, with some travellers wondering whether gorillas can eat meat. Well, the answer is no because gorillas aren’t carnivorous or even omnivorous. It is undeniable that these primates are strong and heavy in weight-measuring between 80 (for females) and 220 kilograms (for males) but you will be surprised to discover that they don’t eat meat.

Interestingly, Gorillas are primarily herbivorous, meaning they mainly feed on plant roots, succulent leaves, stems, tree barks, shoots, vines, herbs, wild celery, fruits and pith. Given the relatively low nutritional quality of these foods, the Great Apes have to eat larger quantity to realize their benefits and the good thing is that their natural habitats make these foods available all year round. For instance, a matured gorilla (silverback) can consume up to 20 kilograms of vegetation each day while the fully grown-up female can consume at least 15 kilograms of vegetation every day. Given the succulence as well as high water content in their food, gorillas rarely drink water.

However, gorillas sometimes snack on insects, especially grubs, termites, slugs, termite seeds, larvae, snails, bugs and ants for their rich sodium as well as protein content. Surprisingly, of all the known Great Apes (chimpanzees, humans, gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans), the gorillas are possibly the most vegetarian but this doesn’t mean that they are strictly vegetarian.

Besides their unique dental formula that doesn’t allow them to easily tear flesh like carnivores, gorillas get much of their vitamin B12 from consuming plants that aren’t washed in chlorinated water. This mineral is mainly found in bacteria within soil hence the reason these Great Apes love ants and termites covered in nutrient-rich soils.

Compared to gorillas, human beings have smaller colon as well as larger small intestines. It is for this reason that humans consume the softer plant parts with less fiber, yet with more nutrient as well as energy. The digestive system of gorillas allows them to consume and digest the large quantities of leaves, fruits, steams and even hard fruits. Unlike the Giant Apes, humans have to first chop, crush and cook to fibrous foods to some degree before consuming. Not only that, gorilla digestion system isn’t designed for consuming any kind of meat.

When compared carnivores, gorillas are heavier in weight and therefore can’t hunt for prey. The big cats lions, leopards and cheetahs are normally very fast in addition to being good at hiking their prey, which gorillas might not be good at.

When it comes to preferences, the Cross River Gorillas mainly eat fruits, pith, leaves, stems and sometimes invertebrates. The western gorillas, belonging to the same gorilla specie (western gorillas) consume 97% of plant species in their natural habitat of which 67% is fruit, only 17% leaves, stems and seeds while only 3% of their diet is made up of caterpillars and termites.

The Eastern lowland gorillas (the largest gorilla sub-species) eat up to 107 different plant species while their counterparts-mountain gorillas consume about 142 plant species as well as 3 fruit species (owing to the scarcity of fruits in areas of high elevations where they usually live). If these, 86% of their diet is made of leaves, stems and shoots while roots make up 7%, flowers are 3%, and fruits are 2% while grubs, ants and snails also make up 2% of their overall diet.