Chimpanzees are highly intelligent animals who share nearly 99% of their genetic DNA with humans making them our closest living relative. Many people don’t realize that chimpanzees are actually more genetically related to human beings than they are to gorillas.
Name: Pan troglodytes. The name troglodytes is Greek for ‘cave-dweller’
Taxonomy: There are 4 subspecies of the Common Chimpanzee currently recognized:
- Central Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, found in central Africa
- Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes vellerosus, found in Nigeria and Cameroon
- Eastern Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii, found in eastern Africa.
- Western Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes verus, found in western Africa
Description: Chimpanzees have coarse dark brown or black hair, occasionally tinted with silver hairs. They have pinkish to black, bare skin on their faces, ears, palms of their hands and the soles of their feet. Their arms are longer than their legs, which help them climb high in the trees and swing from one branch to another. Like humans, chimpanzees have opposable thumbs, which allow them to grasp objects and manipulate food.
Size: Chimpanzees are much larger than most people realize. Many people are accustomed to seeing chimpanzees in the media, on greeting cards or in a movie. As a result, most of us have only been exposed to the smaller babies and juveniles. Adult chimpanzee males are larger than females in both height and weight. The male stands over four feet tall and weighs, on average, 130 pounds, while the female is closer to three feet tall and weighs approximately 100 pounds or less.
Anatomy: In general, the chimpanzee has a shortened spine and a relatively short, broad pelvis which lowers the center of gravity in apes, thereby facilitating a more upright posture. Apes have a broad chest, with the shoulder blades at the back, which allows an exceptionally wide range of movement in the shoulder joint. They also have a flattened face, well-developed jaws, grasping hands and feet and downward-directed, close set nostrils.*
Lifespan: Chimpanzees in the wild can live to be as much as 40 years where as captive chimpanzees average lifespan is 34+ years of age. At this age most are considered geriatric. The oldest documented (captive born), Gamma, lived to be 59.4 years old when she died at Yerkes.
Range and Habitat: Chimpanzees are found in Equatorial Africa and are the most widespread of all the great apes. Chimpanzees most often live in higher concentrations in the rainforest but can be found in a mosaic of habitats, including Savannah grasslands, open woodlands, swamp forests and bamboo forests. Despite the chimpanzees’ adaptability, habitat destruction and over-exploitation have reduced their distribution and only four nations have significant chimpanzee populations.
Diet: Like humans, chimpanzees are omnivores, meaning they eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves and a number of insects. Chimpanzees are also known to hunt and occasionally eat meat.
Behavior: Many aspects of chimpanzee behavior, social relations, emotional and physical needs, and intellectual abilities are similar to those found in humans. Chimpanzees are highly social beings who live in communities of 20 to 100 members. Males and females live in fluid hierarchies that are reinforced through communication using facial expressions, posture, touching and grooming, and sound. Additionally, chimpanzees make and us e tools, an activity long thought to be exclusively human.
Intelligence: Chimpanzees are extremely intelligent. They appear to work through problems in the same way that humans do. Chimpanzees use and make tools and can perform several complex tasks such as solving puzzles, using sign language, and learning to recognize symbols.
Conservation and Threats to chimpanzees: Wild chimpanzees are endangered. At the turn of the century, nearly two million chimpanzees roamed the African forest, spanning over 25 nations. Today, it is estimated no more than 200,000 free-range chimpanzees are remaining. Loss of habitat and illegal commercial trade in bushmeat remain the two major threats to their survival in the wild. In the absence of swift action, our closest animal relative could become extinct within 20 years.