Males are typically larger than females, usually averaging four feet in height and weighing anywhere between 90 to 150 pounds. The average lifespan of a chimpanzee is 50-60 years. Chimps are quadrupeds, meaning they walk on all fours or “knuckle walk”, leaning on clenched fists to support their weight. Their arms are significantly longer than their hind legs, making it most comfortable for them to walk on all fours, but also giving them the ability to walk upright similar to a human. Chimps have opposable thumbs like us, but they also have opposable big toes and can carry, manipulate and grab objects with their feet.
Habitat & Diet
Their habitat historically ranges from southern Senegal through Central Africa to Western Tanzania. Presently, they are found in about 20 countries and are extinct in five countries. The greatest concentrations of chimps are found in the equatorial rainforests, but they can also be found in open woodlands, bamboo forests, swamp forests and open savannah forests.
Chimpanzees are omnivorous, with a diet in the wild consisting primarily of fruits, nuts, seeds, flowers, and leaves and roughly 1-2% consisting of invertebrates, eggs, bark and small mammals. Groups will remember from year to year the location of certain food sources, and pass this information onto their young. Jane Goodall was the first researcher to observe wild chimps using tools to access food or hunt. Since this discovery, we have now learned that all chimps use tools and in fact, it takes years to learn how to make and use them. Tools vary based on region, with chimps in different areas using different types of tools. Examples range from: sticks to fish for termites or probe beehives, stones to break open nuts, leaves used as sponges/napkins, and rudimentary spears for hunting small mammals.
Chimps are highly social animals that live in communities of mixed sexes and ages, typically ranging anywhere from 15-120 individuals. Their social structure is referred to as a “fission-fusion society,” which means that all community members know one another and periodically get together as one group, but often travel, feed and sleep in smaller configurations of 6 or fewer. Every community is led by an alpha male but their success leading the group is very much dependent on the support of females. Chimp hierarchies are fluid -- the makeups of smaller groups often change when the community reconvenes.
They are a very expressive species, with emotions similar to humans that range from joy, anger, sorrow, grief, depression and boredom. Chimps have a complex system of vocalizations, gestures, facial expressions and body postures. Examples of this include: long-distance communication with “pant hoots” or drumming on tree trunks; hair gets puffy when a chimp feels uncomfortable or nervous; often smile, laugh and clap when playing; say “hello” by panting and grooming; scream and “fear-grin” when upset or angry. Grooming is also a huge part of group communication and is often used to help mend disagreements, clean off wounds or parasites, nourish friendships and family or group bonds, and comfort one another. An individual will ask to groom or be groomed by smacking their lips and sometimes quietly clacking their teeth.
Females in the group reach sexual maturity at 14 years of age, and can give birth to 4-6 offspring in their lifetime. Baby chimpanzees weigh around four pounds at birth and have a white tuft of fur on his/her rump. Infants rely heavily on their mother, nursing for up to 6 years, and still spend considerable time with their mothers into adulthood. Young chimps begin to explore on their own at eight months of age, but still have a lot to learn regarding social hierarchy and interactions, appropriate food sources, and tool use.
Meet our Residents
- Chimpanzees are not monkeys. They belong to the great ape family which includes gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, gibbons, and humans.
- Humans and chimps are the most closely related, sharing 95-98% of our DNA. Some of the similarities we share include: internal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, adults have 32 teeth, and the gestation period for females is eight to nine months.
- Chimpanzees have a capacity for sympathy -- both males and females have been documented taking care of orphaned infants, as well as mourning the deaths of members in their communities.
- There are approximately 2,000 chimpanzees in captivity within the United States. Estimates include about 1,000 used in invasive medical research (500 of those are government-owned), 250 in zoos, 600 in sanctuaries and approximately 250 in private ownership.
Status In The Wild
At the turn of the 20th century, one to two million chimpanzees inhabited Africa. However, between 2000 and 2010, Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of forest, and as a result, chimp populations plummeted by as much as 90% in some areas. In most parts of Africa, hunting bushmeat is illegal, but that has not stopped the killing. Poaching bushmeat is now the most immediate threat to the survival of chimpanzees in the wilds of Africa. Current population estimates now range from 170,000-300,000 total chimps left in the wild.
The main threats to wild populations include: large scale logging efforts and habitat destruction, human population growth and habitat encroachment, illegal hunting, and an increase in illness and disease due to exposure to humans (from both local involvement and ecotourism).
Chimpanzees are now listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as an Endangered Species both in the wild and in captivity.