Chimpanzees, also known as “chimps” are a species of apes that are native to Africa. Chimpanzees are members of the “Hominidae” family alongside orangutans, gorillas, and human beings. In fact, chimpanzees are noted as being the closest living relatives to modern day human beings; they share 98% of our genetic blueprint. Chimpanzees have complex social structures and their family bonds and emotions—both positive and negative—strongly resemble those observed in humans.
Jane Goodall is generally considered to be the world expert on chimpanzees. She has spent over 50 years of her life studying them and documenting facts about them that were unknown prior to her research. Specifically, Jane discovered that chimpanzees can use tools to achieve goals such as finding food (observed when chimps used twigs to get insects out of the ground and subsequently devoured them). This was a startling discovery at a time when tool making was supposedly something specific to humans and it proved that chimpanzees have more advanced cognitive powers than human’s originally assumed.
Chimpanzees have complex emotional ranges. They can be caring and giving and there is particularly deep affection between mothers and children. Chimps can care for the sick, play with the young, and look after their elderly tribe members. Yet chimps can also be violent and even cruel. They have been known to beat and kill others of their own species and they are expert hunters. Chimps can form groups and know the difference between “their” group and the “other” group and this can be a source of conflict. Chimpanzees are able to communicate to one another through body language and a wide array of sounds; some researchers claim that their communication abilities are strong enough to be considered a language. Chimpanzees rarely live past 40 in the wild but they have been known to survive until 60 in captivity. Males can grow to be 150 pounds and stand 5’6 feet tall while females are slightly smaller. Females tend to give birth to one baby at a time, although twins are not unheard of.
Chimpanzees are intelligent and have often been used by humans for entertainment purposes. Chimps have been seen on film and on stage. Chimps were also used in scientific experiments but the practice has been outlawed in most countries due to animal rights laws. Some people have even kept chimps as pets. However, it is extremely unwise (and illegal in most places) to keep a chimpanzee as a pet since they are not domesticated and can become stressed. When a chimp is stressed it can act out viciously and they have been known to attack human beings. In Africa, wild chimps have occasionally been known to kill and eat human children.
Despite the dark and sometimes frightening side of chimpanzee nature, they are usually more peaceful than warlike; even playful and fun-seeking (exactly like human beings). They are favorite attractions at zoos and they are commonly featured in children’s books and depicted as being staple inhabitants of the African jungles. Yet chimpanzees are increasingly endangered. Their land has been lost and cut back extensively in the past decades, due in part to human conflicts in the African regions that they naturally inhabit. For these reasons, there are many rescue organizations dedicated to saving chimps and protecting their wild habitats. The Jane Goodall Institute is one of the biggest contributors to the cause of defending the chimpanzee species.
Human beings can learn a lot by studying animals and chimpanzees are incredible creatures to research in order to gain understanding about their survival instincts and community functions in relations to our own since chimps and humans are so closely genetically linked. Although aspects of their nature can be frightening—just like human nature—they are generally docile and fascinating creatures that every animal lover and future zoologist should take some time to learn about.