Protein deficiency in a colony of western lowland gorillas (Gorilla g. gorilla)

J Zoo Wildl Med. 1998 Sep;29(3):261-8.


A syndrome of alopecia and weight loss in a colony of 10 western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in Gabon during a 3-yr period was apparently due to a dietary protein deficiency, with nine individuals affected to some extent. The most severely afflicted was a 4-yr-old female who eventually died as a result of acute gastroenteritis caused by Shigella flexneri. Clinical signs included chronic alopecia, hair discoloration, failure to thrive, and weight loss, and their severity was directly correlated with the degree of hypoalbuminemia (12 g/L in the most extreme case) and normocytic normochromic anemia. Preliminary clinical tests and autopsy results suggested a dietary protein or amino acid deficiency as the cause of the hypoalbuminemia, and further analyses of serum amino acid and protein levels were consistent with a diagnosis of dietary protein deficiency. Supplementation of the colony diet with a protein preparation for humans produced a rapid amelioration of signs and improvement in body and coat condition, a normalization of serum albumin and total protein levels, and disappearance of the anemia in all affected animals except a 12-yr-old male, who responded well to treatment with anabolic steroids. The natural diet of western lowland gorillas is surprisingly high in protein, and the dietary protein requirement of captive gorillas may be increased as a result of the absence of commensal gastrointestinal ciliates.

MeSH terms

  • Alopecia / etiology
  • Alopecia / veterinary
  • Anemia / etiology
  • Anemia / veterinary
  • Animals
  • Ape Diseases / etiology*
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Diet / standards
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Failure to Thrive / etiology
  • Failure to Thrive / veterinary
  • Female
  • Gorilla gorilla*
  • Male
  • Protein Deficiency / complications
  • Protein Deficiency / etiology
  • Protein Deficiency / veterinary*
  • Serum Albumin / analysis
  • Syndrome
  • Weight Loss


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Serum Albumin