Chimpanzee

Chimp Photo
Chimpanzees and humans share about 98 percent of the same genes.
L Stark ©WCS
Chimpanzee Photo
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The chimpanzee is the closest living relative to humans. In fact, research shows that chimps and humans share 98 percent of their genes. Living in social communities of 20 to as many as 150 individuals, these primates demonstrate learned behaviors and complex social skills. Chimpanzees also have the ability to gather and use various tools to get food from places that are otherwise difficult to reach.


There are four recognized subspecies of the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). They live in the mountains, tropical lowlands, and grasslands across western, central, and eastern Africa. A close relative to the chimp, the bonobo (P. paniscus) is restricted to the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Common chimpanzees rely mainly on a vegetarian diet of fruits, leaves, and herbs, but they are omnivorous and eat meat and insects as well. Chimps hunt in groups led by an alpha male. They have highly developed social relationships, exhibiting complex behaviors that range from empathizing with to deceiving other members of their community. Cultural variation among populations may also exist—for example, chimp groups may differ in how they use tools.

Fast Facts

Scientific NamePan troglodytes

  • Though chimpanzees feel at home both on the ground and in the trees, they sleep in trees where they build nests of leaves and branches.
  • The Congo River divides the natural ranges of common chimpanzees and bonobos, so the two species very rarely interact.
  • The male common chimp can stand up to 5 and a half feet tall and weigh as much as 154 pounds; the female is somewhat smaller. Chimps' arms are longer than their legs, which make them skilled climbers.
  • Scientists have observed chimpanzees feeding on medicinal plants when they are ill or injured.

Challenges

Chimpanzees are endangered due to habitat loss and hunting for bushmeat, the latter of which is widespread in Africa. Logging, mining, agricultural encroachment, human settlement, and climate change threaten this primate’s habitat. In a number of countries within the chimpanzee’s range, the human populations are largely impoverished and often dependent on bushmeat for food and money from selling the meat to local markets and high-volume urban markets. Where law enforcement is ineffective, limited conservation awareness and few alternative sources of income drive the wildlife trade.

Chimpanzees are vulnerable to more than 140 of the same diseases as humans. As the numbers of researchers, eco-tourists, local people, and soldiers grow in and around their habitats, chimps are more likely to fall prey to viruses, parasites, and other pathogens.

WCS Responds

Since 1999, WCS has supported the study of the behavioral ecology of wild chimpanzees in northern Republic of Congo, an area which includes the Goualougo Triangle. This long-term research focuses on the social behavior, feeding ecology, and spatial distribution of chimpanzee groups and their co-existence with each other as well as with gorilla populations. To minimize the impact of timber exploitation (such as through road-building and habitat loss) on chimpanzees and gorillas, the research team is formulating recommendations for government and private forestry interests.

In Cameroon, WCS supported the government in its creation of Takamanda National Park, Deng Deng National Park, and Mbam Djerem National Park. The parks help protect habitat for chimpanzees and other species. WCS also advises the country on setting priorities for conservation, planning, and the sustainable use of natural resources. With our partners, we have been instrumental in developing regional action plans for the conservation of chimpanzees across their range.

We are also exploring remote areas, such as the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to discover and count little-known common chimpanzee populations that still occur in Central Africa.  

In disease “high-risk zones,” WCS-Global Health field veterinarians conduct ecological surveys to obtain data and diagnostic samples from chimpanzee and gorilla carcasses. The surveys help to monitor the impact of diseases and to minimize the pathways diseases might take between infecting humans and apes. WCS’s Animal Health Monitoring Network provides critical information to researchers and public health agencies about possible ways for inoculating wild animals.


WCS Projects

Logging Concession in Congo

WCS works with the CIB logging company to reduce the pressures on gorillas, elephants, and other endangered wildlife in four timber concessions and to control the trade in bushmeat. This collaborative project is called PROGEPP: the Project for Ecosystem Management in the Nouabalé-Ndoki Periphery Area.

From the Newsroom

New World Heritage Site in Wild Heart of Central AfricaJuly 2, 2012

Forest elephants congregate en masse within TNS, a new World Heritage Site, sometimes in groups of 100 or more. Nowhere else in the world are this many forest elephants spotted together. 

How to Stop Wildlife Poachers May 25, 2012

WCS VP for Species Conservation Liz Bennett details efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade and highlights the urgent need for additional security forces to slow and ultimately reverse the decimation of myriad charismatic species.

Chimp Haven Gets an UpgradeFebruary 16, 2012

The Republic of Congo formally expands Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park to help protect a rare population of chimps, known for both their skillful tool use and greenness to people.

Rare Chance for the Rarest ChimpJune 30, 2011

WCS conservationists and their partners announce a plan to protect the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. Restricted to pockets of forest within the two countries, the subspecies is the world’s rarest chimp.

A Ripple in an Ape OasisMarch 28, 2011

A WCS census confirms a healthy population of western lowland gorillas in and around Cameroon’s Deng Deng National Park.

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