Save the Chimps Director of Chimpanzee Care Services, Dr. Andrew R. Halloran, is currently researching wild chimpanzees in Sierra Leone.
Here is your chance to ask what you have always wondered! Comment your questions on one of the #AskAPrimatologist Facebook or Twitter posts. We’ll select one each day for Dr. Halloran to respond to from Africa.
We’ll also interview him when he returns to answer more. We can’t wait to hear what you wonder about chimpanzees!
Q. How many subspecies of chimpanzees are there? From Neil L. on Twitter
There are 4 subspecies of chimps. They are divided by geography. In West Africa, the Chimps are Pan troglodytes verus. In Central Africa, in places like Gabon and the Republic of Congo, the chimps are Pan troglodytes troglodytes. In Tanzania, Jane Goodall studied a subspecies called Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii. Existing only along the Nigeria-Cameroon border is a subspecies called Pan troglodytes ellioti. Most captive chimpanzees in the US that you might see in a zoo are verus.
Q. How do wild chimps maintain their healthy teeth and gums? From Clare S. on Facebook
A. Wild chimpanzees often do NOT have healthy teeth and gums. In fact, one of the things that chimpanzees at places like Save the Chimps benefit from is having access to stellar veterinary care. At STC, things like tooth abscesses and cavities are identified quickly and fixed. In the wild, these things can kill a Chimpanzee. It’s one of the reasons that chimps in captivity tend to have a longer life span. Having said that, it’s not all rotten teeth in the wild. A wild chimpanzee’s diet does a great deal for maintaining healthy dentition. For example, out here at the site in Sierra Leone, the chimpanzees primarily subsist off of fruits with very large pits. When the chimpanzees eat these fruits they also consume and chew on the hard pits. The pits do a good job in scraping clean their teeth. Call it nature’s toothbrush.
Q. Do you see an evolutionary change in the wild resulting from our interference? From Susan S. on Facebook
A. Great question! We are currently living in an epoch of time that ecologists and anthropologists have termed “the anthropocene” – which is a period where most life on Earth is affected in some way by the existence of humans on the planet (think of penguins that naturally live in southern South America migrating to the Antarctic peninsula due to warming ocean temperatures, then competing with the penguins that normally live in Antarctica). Wild chimpanzees have been extremely affected by the presence of humans – directly and indirectly. Due to deforestation across west Africa, chimpanzees have been squeezed in smaller forest fragments with high population densities. Frequently they live alongside human communities, and in turn, compete with human populations for resources. This has led to frequent encounters between humans and chimpanzees – a situation that usually ends badly for both parties. Many of these forest fragments do not have the nutritional components to support the Chimpanzee populations. However, in many cases, chimpanzees somehow figure it out! Chimps are “smart” enough to alter their strategies to survive in less than optimal environments. In the forest I am currently in, chimpanzees are nesting in the area of an abandoned village. In this area, they are nesting in large non-native fruit trees that were planted almost 100 years ago by the village. These trees give them an additional food source, a good nesting site, and an area where humans no longer go. It is this type of shift in strategy and behavior that is a direct result of human presence combined with Chimpanzee ingenuity. So to answer the question more directly, we see the evolution of ecological strategies in chimpanzees as a direct result of human presence.
Q. Are there matriarchal societies in the primate world? From Mark M. on Facebook
A. Yes, there are. Interesting examples are South American monkeys called Callitrichids (marmosets and tamarins). Instead of single offspring births, they give birth to multiple offspring at a time. The mother is cared for by the males within the social group. In turn, she is dominant. Even chimp social groups have very dominant females that have a lot of pull within the group.