It has emerged that Kumbuka, the gorilla that escaped from its enclosure at London Zoo, drank five litres (nine pints) of undiluted blackcurrant squash before being tranquillised. What impact would this have had on his health, asks Harry Low.
The western lowland silverback left his den through an unlocked door and entered the zookeepers’ enclosure, where he seized his chance to drink something sweet – lots of it.
He would have been more familiar with the diluted version of the drink, which forms part of the gorillas’ daily diet, according to a spokeswoman for the zoo, along with cold fruit tea and leafy greens such as cabbage and kale. They are also fed other fresh vegetables including broccoli, carrots and cucumber.
Gorillas have quite large stomachs so this epic helping of concentrated squash could have caused severe stomach pains and diarrhoea, according to Prof Phyllis Lee, a primatologist at the University of Stirling.
“Five litres is quite a lot for a gorilla to consume in one go but given a gorilla’s manual dexterity, I would assume that some would have been spilled,” she says.
“He must have found it and taken his opportunity, similar to how a four-year-old child would.”
Lee added that she would expect the squash to affect the consistency of Kumbuka’s poo rather than its colour – even in the case of blackcurrant – though she added that she had not studied the matter closely.
But what about the effect of the sugar? Might this have caused a surge of physical activity once the effect of the tranquilliser had worn off? Apparently not in this case.
“Within two hours Kumbuka was back with his family, snacking on treats, and probably wondering what all the fuss was about,” , who carried out a report into last week’s incident.
Had a human drunk five litres of undiluted squash, the results would have been similar, but possibly more extreme.
It would be almost impossible for a human to take that much squash on, according to dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker.
“I would imagine it would lead to a very upset tummy and disrupt the digestive tract,” she says.
Diarrhoea and sickness would be the main symptoms, she suggests, though they would not last too long.
“It wouldn’t cause lasting damage – maybe you’d feel the effects for a day.”
According to Phyllis Lee, Kumbuka’s size – he weighs 29 stone (184kg) – would have helped him cope with his squash-drinking binge.
There would have been no danger of overdosing on vitamin C, she says, and no damage to the teeth from just one episode of this kind.
“That would only be caused by continually consuming sugary drinks.”