OUR CLOSEST COUSIN

Chimpanzees range across tropical Africa, inhabiting dense rainforest and dry savannah woodland from West Africa to Uganda and Tanzania in the east.

The common chimpanzee, along with the pygmy chimpanzee or bonobo, is the closest living relative of humans. Much like us, these highly intelligent and resourceful primates have incredibly complex and sophisticated social structures that have fascinated scientists for decades. Many studies have shown they are altruistic, plan for the future and have a grasp of basic numeracy.

They live in hierarchical social groups of up to 150 individuals, held together by the strong bonds between male chimpanzees. Smaller, lower-ranking males will form coalitions, working together to depose a stronger male. Disputes within groups are normally non-violent, but rival groups are known to engage in organised warfare and other violent behaviour formerly ascribed to humans alone.

All four subspecies of common chimpanzee have been observed using tools and they will often modify items they find, in order to make foraging easier.

Chimpanzees have a complex ‘cognitive map’ of their territory. They use this to repeatedly locate their favourite food sources. Chimps are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders. The majority of their diet is plant-based, but they supplement this with insects, eggs, honey and meat.

CHIMPANZEE FACTS

  • Chimps sleep in trees, but forage mainly on the ground during the day, using ‘knuckle-walking’ to move around.
  • Fruit makes up around 50% of a chimpanzee’s diet.
  • Chimpanzees display many abilities once considered uniquely human, such as tool use, abstract thought, deliberate deception and intentional treatment of illnesses with medicines.
  • Historically, their popularity as pets has led to young chimpanzees being targeted by illegal wildlife traders.
  • Chimpanzees have been recorded entertaining themselves by solving puzzles.
At a glance
Pan troglodytes
Endangered

Family:

Hominidae

Order:

Primates

Estimated in the wild:

Fewer than 300,000

All four subspecies of the common chimpanzee are threatened with extinction.

98.4

The percentage of DNA shared by chimpanzees and humans.

6,000

Estimated population of the chimpanzee subspecies confined to Nigeria and Cameroon.

CONSERVATION STORY

Chimpanzees are threatened throughout their range, and their numbers are decreasing rapidly as a result of various forms of human encroachment on their traditional habitat. Poaching, forest destruction and disease pose the greatest threats to their survival.

Forest loss and degradation due to the harvesting of timber, commercial mining and agricultural expansion – particularly for oil palm plantations – continue to deprive chimpanzees of vital habitat. Logging and mining roads and oil pipelines are penetrating deeper into remote, previously inaccessible forests, slicing through chimpanzee territory and exposing them to greater hunting pressure.

Chimpanzees are officially protected throughout their range, but poaching is rife, particularly around workers’ camps, where bushmeat is the main source of protein and wildlife can be killed with impunity because law enforcement is virtually non-existent.

Proximity to this growing influx of humans also increases the risk of disease transmission. Chimpanzees are so similar to humans anatomically and genetically that they are susceptible to the same diseases, but their immune response may be less effective due to lack of previous exposure. Infectious diseases, especially Ebola, are causing massive die-offs in chimp populations.

In the absence of adequate law enforcement, the protection nominally afforded to chimpanzees by national and international legislation is largely meaningless. Even the minority of chimps that live in official protected areas are under threat.

HOW FFI IS HELPING TO SAVE THE CHIMPANZEE

FFI is working to save chimpanzees and their habitat in many countries across their range in West, Central and East Africa. In partnership with governments and local communities we are helping to develop action plans, improve law enforcement, protect and restore forest habitat, and ensure that rangers are well trained and adequately equipped.

In western Uganda, FFI is supporting communities in their restoration of vital forest corridors between some of the country’s remaining chimpanzee strongholds in the Albertine Rift area. Households are already actively engaged in monitoring chimp movements and numbers via the project’s mobile phone network, and FFI is working with farmers to devise ways of connecting other remnant patches of forest within this subsistence agriculture landscape.

In West Africa, FFI is working to improve governance, management and biodiversity protection in the Upper Guinean Forest landscape. This transboundary initiative incorporates Guinea’s Ziama Man and Biosphere Reserve and Liberia’s Wonegizi proposed protected area, which harbour significant numbers of the western chimpanzee. FFI is supporting a regional Chimpanzee Action Plan to safeguard this critically endangered subspecies.

Chimpanzees are also among the many species benefiting from our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries beset by civil conflict. For example, regular patrols are helping to deter poachers at an FFI project site in South Sudan where camera traps have revealed the presence of eastern chimpanzees.