Skip to main content

UK's Paignton Zoo bans monkeys from eating bananas for health reasons

By Laura Smith-Spark and Kirsten Dewar, CNN
January 15, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Macaque monkeys eating sprouts.
Macaque monkeys eating sprouts.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paignton Zoo in Devon takes bananas out of its monkeys' diet
  • Zoo says the high sugar content of bananas grown for humans is bad for monkeys
  • Since bananas were banned, the monkeys' coats and tempers have improved

London (CNN) -- Monkeys and bananas. It's as natural a pairing as squirrels and nuts or movies and popcorn.

Not any more, says one zoo in southwest England.

Paignton Zoo in Devon is grabbing bananas out of its monkeys' hands, giving them leafy veggies and sprouts instead.

This is no monkey-business diet fad, though.

Emperor tamarin monkey eats a banana.
Emperor tamarin monkey eats a banana.

The zoo says the high calorie and sugar content of bananas grown for human consumption -- which are sweeter than those found in the wild -- are bad for the monkeys' health and can rot their teeth.

"Bananas grown for human consumption are full of sugar and calories, and bear no relation to fruit grown organically," said zoo spokesman Philip Knowling.

"Life in the wild is hard work and in a zoo you can sometimes look after the animals too well and it isn't good for their health."

Thicker, better fur

Humans can continue gobbling up their bananas, just keep them away from monkeys.

"Sweet and juicy bananas are good for humans but not for monkeys," Knowling said. "Animal nutrition has become a problem. Bananas and monkeys is a bit of a cliche, but they're not a good combination."

The zoo has not been able to find a supplier for the kind of wild-grown bananas that would be more suitable for the monkeys, he said. So, it decided it was time to put them back on the shelf.

The zoo has seen "definite changes" in the monkey's behavior since the bananas were slowly withdrawn from their diet, Knowling said.

"We've noticed a net improvement in their coat and their fur is thicker and better. Some of the smaller monkeys are less aggressive," he said.

Thailand's annual 'monkey buffet'

Diabetes risk

According to the zoo's head of conservation, Amy Plowman, the bananas' high sugar content could cause the monkeys to develop diabetes or similar conditions.

"It can also cause gastrointestinal problems as their stomachs are mostly adapted to eating fibrous foods with very low digestibility," she said.

Zoos are getting smarter in the way they feed their captive animals.

Rather than throw in ready chopped and prepared food, many now try to make the animals "work" for their calories by searching for scattered foodstuffs or doing puzzles to release treats.

This is just the next step, Plowman said.

Knowling said there was no obvious sign that the monkeys were missing the fruit. In fact, they could well be happier without the extra sugar.

"Smaller monkeys such as tamarins and marmosets are highly strung animals and live in tight-knit social groups which can be quite aggressive at times," said Matthew Webb, senior head keeper of mammals.

"Reducing the sugar in their diets has calmed them down and made their groups more settled."

Iran claims 2nd launch of monkey into space and back

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT