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The zoo has seen "definite changes" in the monkey's behavior since the bananas were slowly withdrawn from their diet, Knowling said.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 9:35 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Three Americans detained in North Korea spoke out about their conditions and pleaded for U.S. help in interviews with CNN.
Hundreds of jihadis in Syria are from abroad -- which countries have the biggest problem?
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
CNN attends a funeral where mourners keep their distance.
updated 5:13 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Libyan militia members have apparently turned the abandoned U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, into a water park.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Obama's remarks that he didn't yet have a strategy for ISIS in Syria is widely criticized.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 9:25 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Beijing says only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive, prompting criticism.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
updated 5:55 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
In a major breach of privacy, a hacker leaked a series of pictures allegedly showing Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities in the nude.
Instead of weaving garments sold in the West, children should be in school
According to the International Labour Organization, there are 168 million child laborers around the world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT