Eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringei) are among the few mammal species that seasonally consume large quantities of young bamboo shoots, which are a rich source of energy. Here, we document how the consumption of bamboo shoots coincides with changes in behavior of adult mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) monitored by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund's Karisoke Research Center in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. We offer a preliminary analysis of possible mechanisms underlying this behavioral change by measuring energy intake rates and the presence of cyanide and alcohol—ingredients potentially associated with increased activity levels—in fresh bamboo shoots. The percentage of bamboo shoots in the diet of gorillas was correlated positively with the rate of play behavior shown by adults in 2 of the 3 study groups. Play behavior was not the result of better weather conditions and also did not reflect the availability of spare time. Rather, there is some, but not consistent, evidence for a link between energy intake rates and play behavior of adults. Cyanide was not detected in young bamboo shoots, and the presence of alcohol remains inconclusive, albeit unlikely. In sum, our results show that consumption of a high-quality food can have a direct influence on the activity budget (and by extrapolation energy expenditure) of mountain gorillas through increased rates of play behavior. However, the physiological aspects underlying this elevated activity warrant further investigation.
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Vol. 97 • No. 6