Chimpanzees are great apes and members of the Hominidae family, which includes humans. Chimps are our closest animal relatives, found in western and central Africa. We share approximately 98% of our DNA with them. Chimpanzees are also in danger due to their declining population.
Chimps, like us, laugh together, form social groups, and use tools to achieve their goals. Chimps can live in the wild for about 50 years and in captivity for up to 60 years. Offspring form strong attachments to their mothers and maintain close relationships with them throughout their lives. These gregarious primates nest in the treetops and walk on all fours, and despite decades of research, we are constantly learning new things about them. Discover the most amazing facts about chimpanzees, from having stable personality traits to keeping their nests extra clean.
Chimpanzees are great apes and naturally amazing animals that live in Africa’s grass savannahs and tropical forests. They are also known as chimps, and there are four confirmed subspecies. Chimpanzees and bonobos are classified in the genus pan, which was discovered by scholars using fossil comparisons. These wild animals are thought to be a sister taxon to the human lineage, sharing 75% – 95% of the human DNA. Chimpanzees are distinguished by their bare faces, coarse black hair, figure toes, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet.
They are larger and more robust as compared to the bonobo as they weigh 40 – 70kg for males and 27 – 50kg for females. Wild individual chimpanzee is relatively 25 years with a life span of 31.7 for males and 38.7 years for females.
Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, are endangered and declining in population. Poaching, infectious diseases, habitat loss, and decreased habitat quality due to human competition are the most serious threats to chimps. Although it is illegal to capture, kill, or consume chimps, hunting is the greatest threat to their survival.
While legally protected within their range, enforcement is lax, and chimp populations require more stringent law enforcement protection. To protect chimps from further habitat loss caused by agricultural projects, better coordinated land use regulation in the chimps’ range is required to improve their chances of survival. Another significant risk for chimps is their susceptibility to diseases that also affect humans due to their similarity. Contact with humans, whether for tourism or research, exposes chimps to infectious diseases.
Did you know chimp nests are cleaner than human beds? According to a Tanzanian study, chimp nests are less likely to harbor bacteria (fecal, skin, or oral) than human beds. The reason for this is that they build a new nest every night, which prevents bacteria from accumulating. Researchers also noted that only four individual parasites were discovered among the 41 nests examined. So the chimps are sleeping soundly in a nearly bug- and bacteria-free nest.
A group of chimps in Uganda’s Kibale National Park became ill with respiratory disease in 2013. The disease killed five of the 56 chimps. Researchers discovered the cause when the body of a two-year-old chimp was recovered and autopsied: rhinovirus C, one of the primary causes of the common cold in humans. Because of their endangered status and susceptibility to human infections, the IUCN and Primate Specialist Group established protective measures and best practice guidelines to protect chimps and other great apes from COVID-19 in 2020.
Chimps are capable of social learning. They have been observed picking up fashion tips as well as learning to make tools from one another. In 2010, a Zambian chimp named Julie inserted a stalk of grass into her ear for unknown reasons. The rest of her group did the same. A group of researchers observed the behavior but did not find it to be a repetitive action, and they couldn’t figure out what the ear accessory was for other than to look nice to the other chimps.
Jane Goodall noticed a schism among a group of previously unified apes in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park in 1974. Over the next four years, the chimps fought over territory and killed each other on purpose, including an ambush of six chimps against one. While one chimp group eventually won, their expanded territory pushed up against the range of a third chimp group, extending the conflict.
Further research has confirmed that access to resources, particularly food and mates, is the primary cause of chimp violence. The majority of the attacks are carried out by male chimps against other males, primarily against members of different communities. Attacks are more common in areas with a higher male population as well as areas with a higher population density overall. The study also discovered that violent behavior was more common in eastern chimps than in western chimps.
A 2018 study discovered that chimp and bonobo gestures overlap by 90% — far more than would be expected by chance. These gestures included flinging hands to frighten an ape or stroking another animal’s mouth to express a desire for the food of the other. Many of these gestures have been deciphered by humans, leading to the conclusion that they were used by our last common ancestor. This finding was supported further by a study that found toddlers and chimps share nearly 90% of gestures such as jumping, hugging, and stomping.
Chimpanzees have been observed communicating with each other using 58 different gesture types. Over 2,000 gestures were recorded by a team of researchers who studied video footage of wild chimps in Uganda’s Budongo Forest Reserve. Short phrases and meanings were represented by commonly used gestures, while longer gestures were broken down into smaller gestures, similar to how human language includes multiple syllables for longer words.
Chimps live in dangerous environments, but they have each other’s backs. These great apes are known for warning their friends, but according to a 2013 study, chimps will adjust their warnings based on the information they believe the other chimps have about the threat. Chimps will make alarming vocalizations and stare at a threat before returning to their group until other chimps notice. Their vocalizations and gestures become more urgent if they believe another chimp is unaware. The study also discovered that chimps who are related or friends will give more warnings about threats.
For a long time, chimps were thought to be herbivores, but it has now been discovered that they are omnivores who eat both meat and plants. When Goodall saw the creatures extract termites with sticks, she noticed they were eating something other than plants. Chimps eat monkey meat as well, and they prefer red colobus monkeys. The red colobus monkey population is declining significantly in areas where both are present. While they consume a wide range of fruits, vegetables, roots, and seeds, they avoid foods that they find unpleasant, such as those with odors associated with biological contaminants.
Camera footage of four groups of chimps in West Africa revealed animals throwing stones at or into trees and then leaving the rocks there to repeat the process. The practice did not appear to be related to foraging or tool use. The authors speculate that the activity is ritualistic in nature, though they acknowledge that the definition of “ritual” in this case is debatable.
The throwing activity included a pant hoot vocalization, and the majority of the participants were male. The practice’s significance is unknown, but it provides another avenue for understanding chimps.
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