Chimpanzees are endangered mammals whose distinctive travel method--loping along on the soles of their feet and their knuckles--earned them the title of knuckle-walkers. They are "great apes," a family including bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas. Chimpanzees live an average of 45 years in the wild and 50 years in zoos, typically weighing 70 to 130 lbs and are 4 to 5.5 ft long.
Similarity to Humans
Geneticists have determined that chimpanzees share over 98 percent of the genetic blueprint of humans, and they have many characteristics which are similar to humans. They live in social communities of several dozen chimpanzees, can be taught basic sign language and even use tools.
Chimpanzees are also very expressive, using body language and facial cues to communicate. Chimps clap, grunt, and even "smile," although when they bare their teeth in a grin, as we would see it, it actually indicates fear or anxiety. They also recognize themselves in a mirror.
They have some similar physical characteristics to humans as well. They give birth to a single helpless infant, who nurses from its mother. Females reach reproductive age at around 13, while males do around age 16. Like humans, they also have opposable thumbs.
Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, and can be taught by humans. A chimp named Ham became the first "American" in space when he orbited Earth in 1961, testing space travel for human astronauts. They have been recorded using more than 30 tools, including digging grubs out of logs with sticks, using leaves as sponges to soak up water and smashing nuts open with rocks. They even paint, with childlike designs, and scientist believe they have concepts of form and style.
Chimpanzees live in the tropical forests and wet savannas of Western and Central Africa. They thrive in rain forests, woodlands and grasslands. Chimpanzees can can walk upright, as well as walking on all fours, but they are also adept at swinging from tree to tree, making forests an ideal habitat for them. Chimpanzees do much of their eating and sleeping (in leafy nests) in trees, as well. Chimpanzees cannot swim and dislike water.
Chimpanzees are omnivores with an incredibly varied diet. They have been recorded eating over 80 different items. For the most part, chimpanzees prefer to eat fruit and plants. However, they also consume insects, particularly termites, and eggs. Some chimpanzees also hunt small animals, like other monkeys or young antelope.
For chimpanzees, eating is a solo activity, although they will sometimes hunt together. Chimpanzees are very resourceful when it comes to seeking food, dipping sticks into ant hills to retrieve the insects or soaking up rainwater from tree stumps using spongy leaves.
As of July 2010, chimpanzees are endangered animals, due to loss of habitat, illegal capture and being hunted for bushmeat (the meat of wild animal).
Since 1960 the wild chimpanzee population has been steadily dropping. Once, over a million chimpanzees inhabited over 25 countries in Africa. The current chimpanzee population is estimated at 150,000 to 235,000, with only six countries now featuring healthy wild breeding populations. Habitats are being destroyed for farmland, the logging industry and roads.
Primatologists estimate that for every baby chimpanzee captured as a pet, 10 more are killed in attempts to protect the baby from being taken. By age five, chimpanzees are strong and dislike being caged.
- Photo Credit chimpanzee image by Henryk Olszewski from Fotolia.com