- Fruits have gotten too sweet for some animals and zookeepers have had to find alternative foods.
- Red pandas and other monkeys have been gaining weight and seen some tooth decay from sugary fruits at the Melbourne Zoo in Australia.
- Crops have been modified to be sweeter and larger than wild fruits, which the animals’ diets would normally consist of.
Zookeepers in Australia are beginning to wean some animals off fruits because they’re now too sweet for the animals’ good.
“The issue is the cultivated fruits have been genetically modified to be much higher in sugar content than their natural, ancestral fruits,” said Michael Lynch, the Melbourne Zoo’s head veterinarian, in the Sydney Morning Herald.
What Lynch is referring to is the genetic engineering farmers have been able to use with today’s technology to speed up the breeding process of crops, typically making them more resistant to viruses and pests. These processes have given way to making fruits much different than how they normally were grown, including growing watermelon with a much deeper red inside, reducing the size of the large, hard seeds that were once inside bananas, ridding eggplant of the spines they once had, and making peaches 64 times larger than they once were and 27 percent juicer, according to Business Insider.
The sugar has caused red pandas and other primates, who have developed a liking to these modified, sugary fruits compared to the natural versions, to gain weight and even show signs of tooth decay.
This may seem counterintuitive to most.
For humans, having a regular intake of fruit has been associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and a range of cancers, including breast, lung and oral, according to an evidence review by the Australian government.
The sugar found in fruits is good for us. Fructose in raw fruits in packaged in fiber, slowing its absorption into our bloodstream. Because it’s more difficult to break down, it doesn’t result in heightened levels of sugar in our blood, like that of refined sugar found in candies and sodas, according to Quartz.
To mimic a diet much like what they would eat in the wild, zookeepers would feed red pandas and monkeys a very fruit-heavy diet. But now that it’s been found the fruits they’ve been giving the animals are much more sugar-dense than wild fruits, keepers have switched the animals to a healthier diet.
“Pretty much all cultivated varieties at present are sweeter than their wild counterparts,” said food scientist at the University of Melbourne Dr. Senaka Ranadheera.
Some fruits, such as plums, have almost double the soluble sugar content than what they would have recorded 20 years ago, said Ranadheera.
For the red pandas, they’ve transitioned from fruits to nutritional pellets sweetened with pear. Other animals are now given green, leafy vegetables that are rich in nutrients in place of their fruits.
Both groups still find their new entrees delicious, zookeepers say.