Skip to main content

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

By Laura Smith-Spark and Kirsten Dewar, CNN
updated 10:25 AM EST, Wed January 15, 2014
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The zoo has seen "definite changes" in the monkey's behavior since the bananas were slowly withdrawn from their diet, Knowling said.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
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Hamas' tactics have changed -- now the group is using commando-like tactics, says CNN's Ben Wedeman.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
CNN's Richard Quest speaks to Malaysia Airlines' Hugh Dunleavy about how the airline industry needs to react to MH17.
updated 12:08 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
From Maastricht to Melbourne, and baroque theaters to block-long warehouses, these stores make bookish travelers look stylish.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 9:44 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
A California homeowner's nightmare has become a cautionary tale for those who rent their homes to strangers.
updated 2:57 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
updated 8:21 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Prince George isn't your average one year old. He started walking before he was one. Oh, and, he's going to be king -- of 16 countries.
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Former President Bill Clinton acknowledges he got "very close" to helping achieve peace in the Middle East.
updated 2:21 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Inspirational, creepy or just weird? CNN meets the 51-year-old man who dresses like a schoolgirl.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT