Biology & Habitat
- Biologically, chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to another species of great apes—gorillas. In fact, humans and chimpanzees share about 95 percent to 98 percent of the same DNA.
- Chimpanzees can catch and be infected with human diseases. Read more on this topic.
- In the wild, chimpanzees seldom live past age 50. Some captive individuals, however, have lived past the age of 60.
- Chimpanzees are currently found in 21 African countries with the greatest concentrations in what used to be the equatorial forest “belt.”
Chimpanzees have black hair and pinkish to black skin on their faces, ears, palms of their hands, and soles of their feet. Infant chimpanzees have very pale brownish skin on their faces, ears, palms of their hands, and soles of their feet. Infants also have a white tail tuft that disappears by early adulthood.
Chimpanzees have opposable thumbs and big toes, which enables them to have a precision grip.
Chimpanzee males are slightly larger and heavier than females. In Tanzania's Gombe National Park, adult males weigh between 90 and 115 pounds and measure four feet high when standing upright.
Chimpanzees are known as “knuckle walkers” or, more formally, quadrupeds. This means they walk on all fours, using their knuckles for support when they are on the ground and even when they are up in the trees. Chimpanzees have longer arms than legs, which makes walking on all fours easier. These longer arms also help them reach out to fruits growing on thin branches that wouldn’t be able to support their entire weight. They also use these long arms to swing from branch to branch or brachiate.
Chimpanzees are currently found in 21 African countries—from the west coast of the continent to as far east as western Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
The greatest number of chimpanzees is located in the rain forests, in what used to be the equatorial forest “belt.” They can also be found in secondary regrowth forests, open woodlands, bamboo forests, swamp forests, and even open savanna where there are some forested areas. In savanna areas, they rarely venture far into the savanna except to move from one forest patch to the next.
Chimpanzees require a water supply and a wide variety of fruits in their habitats. They are omnivores, meaning they eat not only fruits, nuts, seeds, blossoms and leaves, but many kinds of insects and occasionally the meat of medium-sized mammals. Read more about Dr. Goodall’s discovery that chimpanzees hunt and eat meat.
The chimpanzees' wide diet means they are able to live in a variety of habitats unlike some other endangered great apes, such as gorillas and orangutans, which have a more specific diet in the wild.
Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of its forested area between 2000 and 2010 (FAO Global Resources Assessment 2010). Much of this loss occurred within the chimpanzee range, including the equatorial forest belt, which now consists largely of isolated forest patches. This loss of suitable habitat is one of the greatest threats to the long-term survival of chimpanzees and other great apes. As their habitat disappears, some chimpanzees are able to move into more arid areas, such as southwest Tanzania and Senegal. However, the movement of chimpanzees is not a long-term solution for the survival of the species.
Global demand for forest and extractive industry products are growing as competition for Africa’s natural resources is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, increasing population growth combined with poverty leads local communities to use forest resources in unsustainable ways in order to meet their basic needs. Conversion of land for intensive agriculture, shifting cultivation, poaching and the bushmeat trade, together with unsustainable illegal industrial and informal logging, mining, and oil extraction all reduce forest cover and destroy biodiversity.
To be effective, forest and species conservation must address the deeply rooted human problems associated with poverty. JGI’s community-centered conservation approach provides local communities with the tools needed to manage their natural resources for long-term economic gain and environmental sustainability. Read more about JGI’s community-centered conservation work in Africa.
How can we even try to save the chimpanzees and forests if the people are so obviously struggling to survive? – Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE