Chimpanzees are great apes (not monkeys) who are native to the continent of Africa. If you ever wonder if you are looking at an ape or a monkey, look for a tail. Monkeys have tails, apes: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons, and humans –do not. Along with bonobos, chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. We share approximately 98% of our DNA with chimps, so it’s fair to say that we are 98% chimpanzee, and chimps are 98% human. Chimpanzees are an endangered species. Millions of chimpanzees used to live throughout equatorial Africa from southern Senegal through Central Africa to western Tanzania. This is an area almost the size of the United States. Today, there are estimated to be merely 170,000-300,000 chimpanzees left in Africa, and their population is decreasing rapidly. One recent census in the Ivory Coast revealed that the chimp population there had decreased 90% in just the past twenty years.
The primary threats to chimpanzees are habitat destruction, hunting, and disease. The increasing human population is encroaching ever deeper into even protected areas of chimpanzee habitats, and large scale logging is now a major threat to the forest primates of Africa. Subsistence hunting of chimpanzees as a source of meat is nothing new, but there is now a thriving but unsustainable commercial market for bushmeat (the meat of wild animals), including chimpanzees. Increased contact with humans, both local people and eco-tourists, has also brought the threat of diseases which may be mild in humans but lethal to chimps.
What Chimps Eat
Chimpanzees are omnivores. They rely heavily on a wide variety fruit and leaves, but also eat insects, bark, eggs, nuts, and even hunt monkeys and other small animals for meat. Chimpanzees spend a large part of their day looking for food and eating, but they do not wander aimlessly through the forest hoping to bump into food. They know where they are going and remember from year to year where food is located and when a particular fruit is ripe. When they hunt, the chimps coordinate their efforts and share the meat amongst each other. Also, there is evidence that in addition to their regular diet, chimpanzees may eat certain plants for their medicinal value, such as to soothe an upset stomach or get rid of intestinal parasites.
Jane Goodall was the first researcher to discover that chimpanzees make and use tools when she observed a chimp strip a stem of its leaves and use the stem to “fish” for termites. Since that groundbreaking discovery, chimps all over Africa have been observed making and using tools in a wide variety of situations. Besides fishing for termites, chimpanzees use rocks as hammers and anvils to pound open nuts, use leaves as napkins and sponges, use sticks to probe or break open beehives for honey, and manufacture spears to kill small mammals. Some chimp populations even have “tool kits”, a collection of different tools used in sequence to access a particular food source. It can take chimps years to perfect their use of tools, as many as five years to learn how to fish for termites, ten years to learn how to pound open palm nuts with stone hammers and anvils. Tool use gets taught and passed down from generation to generation. There have even been archaeological discoveries of stone tools used by chimps over 4,000 years ago, similar to stone tools used by chimps today to crack open nuts.
Some Facts About Chimps
Chimpanzees are fascinating beings. Our list of chimp facts contains information about chimpanzee social behavior and natural habitat, along with facts about chimpanzee protection efforts. Find out the similarities and differences between chimpanzees and humans, with primate facts and trivia.
- Chimpanzees are our closest living relative because we share all but 1.4% of our DNA with chimps. Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to gorillas or orangutans.
- In the wild, chimpanzees live in large groups of 15 to 120 individuals. They communicate with one another through a complex, subtle system of vocalizations, facial expressions, body postures, and gestures.
- Like human infants, newborn chimpanzees are entirely dependent on their mothers for warmth, protection, transportation, and nourishment.
- In their natural habitat, chimpanzees nurse for 5 years. During this time, they learn what to eat and what to avoid by watching their mothers and other adult chimpanzees.
- Chimpanzees begin wandering short distances from their mothers at about 8 months of age.
- Chimpanzees enter adulthood at about 13 years of age. Chimpanzee mothers may enjoy life-long bonds with their adult sons and daughters.
- Chimpanzees, like humans, use facial expressions to convey emotions.
- Chimpanzees have emotions similar to those we call joy, anger, grief, sorrow, pleasure, boredom, and depression. They also comfort and reassure one another by kissing and embracing.
- Even though chimpanzees’ habitat is often near water, chimps cannot swim, due to the structure and density of their bodies.
- A chimpanzee’s senses of sight, taste, and hearing are similar to those of humans.
- Chimpanzees can live for more than 50 years. This is another reason why chimps who were purchased as pets often end up at sanctuaries.