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Charcoal for Monkey Stomachaches
Animal husbandry is becoming more and more active in exploring and marketing charcoal products for a range of different ailments, but some animals just can’t wait for the wheels of progress to catch up with them.
Furry jungle inhabitants have more to contend with than just parasites and microbes. Some of the most nutritious plants that they eat also contain more or less toxic substances called secondary compounds. These compounds act as a defense mechanism against hungry herbivores. Red colobus monkeys on Zanzibar Island, Tanzania prefer leaves of the exotic Indian almond and mango trees. These trees yield leaves high in protein as well as secondary compounds called phenols, which interfere with the monkeys' digestion.
What could these animals eat to counteract the poisonous nature of the leaves, while retaining their nutritional benefits? For six years, anthropologist Thomas Struhsaker, of Duke University, studied the fascinating feeding behavior of the Tanzanian red colobus. Besides having a preference for almond and mango leaves they also eat charcoal from charred stumps, logs, and branches, as well as from around man-made kilns.
“They really go after the charcoal. Bigger monkeys try to take charcoal away from smaller ones. And they come down from the trees to grab pieces much bigger than they can possibly eat, carrying it off with two hands.”
University of Wyoming chemist, David Cooney, showed that the charcoal had a high adsorptive capacity for phenols. But while the toxic phenols adhered to the charcoals, the proteins did not. Interestingly, birth rates and population densities of the red colobus are significantly higher where charcoal is found in conjunction with almond and mango trees, than where there is no charcoal.
View this fascinating VIDEO LINK