Mountain_gorilla_finger_detail.By Kurt Ackermann CC BY 2.5, from Wikimedia Commons

Gorillas love of salt may be putting them in harm's way

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The hunt for salt-rich food may be encouraging gorillas to leave the relative safety of park areas, to try and feed on human crops or high altitude plants, both of which may put them at risk, say Australian researchers. Leaving their natural habitat and feeding on crops may increase human-wildlife conflict, and visiting high-altitude areas may increase the risk of hypothermia, they say. To discourage the gorillas from crossing into farmlands near the forest, agricultural practices may need to change, say the authors, including using plants that are nutritionally unattractive to the gorillas.

Journal/conference: Biotropica

Organisation/s: The University of Western Australia

Media Release

From: The University of Western Australia

WHY MOUNTAIN GORILLAS TAKE RISKS TO RAID EUCALYPTUS PLANTATIONS

New research by scientists at The University of Western Australia has solved the mystery of why critically endangered mountain gorillas go to extremes to raid eucalyptus plantations.

Gorillas in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains have long been observed exiting their natural park refuge and gorging themselves on eucalyptus bark on community land, resulting in human-wildlife conflict. They also sometimes climb to the top of volcanoes to eat eucalyptus trees, where they face cold stress.

Now scientists have worked out why. It is to satisfy the need for salt in their diet.

Lead author Dr Cyril Grueter from UWA’s School of Human Sciences and the Centre for Evolutionary Biology said the study found eucalypts were more than a hundred times richer in sodium than the gorillas’ staples inside their park, and this was the main incentive for the gorillas’ escapades.

“The gorillas obtain up to two thirds of their sodium when consuming eucalypts,” Dr Grueter said.

“A sodium deficit can trigger a specific hunger for it which causes animals to do all sorts of crazy things to get it.”

It is hoped the findings of the study will advance the discussion of how to adapt local human land use to effectively curb conflict with salt-hungry gorillas going on crop raids.

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