Chapter 2 Fat: Please don’t feed the humans.

Furry love handles. Chantek is a smart, lovable orangutan who lives at the Atlanta zoo. Trained in sign language, he has a vocabulary of more than 150 words, and he is considered a decent artist. Now in his twenties, he was born at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta and then spent nine years being raised like a human–complete with diapers and infant formula.

Growing up in this human setting, Chantek became really fat, weighing in at five hundred pounds, roughly three times his ideal size. Afraid that the massive bulk would collapse his lungs, scientists placed him on a strict diet. Formerly five hundred pounds of fun, he became four hundred pounds of anger. During the diet, his favorite sign language symbol became "candy." He refused to draw and instead ate the crayons given for his artistic use.

While on his diet, Chantek even pulled off an escape. He threatened and could have easily killed a janitor, but chose instead to attack a 55-gallon drum of food. He was eventually found sitting next to the up-ended food barrel, using all four limbs to stuff monkey chow into his mouth.

Chantek is unique, not only for his human contact and his linguistic and artistic abilities but also for his weight. You see, there are no fat orangutans outside zoos and research centers. Wild orangutans, despite sharing Chantek’s genetic zest for a fine meal, maintain a svelte 160 pounds or so because food is relatively scarce and difficult to obtain in the jungles of Borneo.

Like Chantek, many of us have trouble staying skinny and healthy. As we’ll see, easy living with plentiful food is the source of weight control problems for humans and captive orangutans alike. ...

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