Chimpanzee is a species of apes that come under the genus Pan under the family of Hominidae or the great apes. The chimpanzee scientific name is Pan troglodytes. Along with the bonobo, another species falling under the Pan genus, chimpanzees share close evolutionary relationships with humans. The chimpanzee habitat is located in the tropical forests and the savannas of Africa. They are found in the region enclosed by Senegal in the west, Lake Albert and northwestern Tanzania in the east.
What is a Chimpanzee?
A chimpanzee is a mammal that comes under the classification of the great ape family under the primates. They share many similarities with Homo sapiens, the human species. Genetic studies have discovered at least 98% identity between the genomes of Pan troglodytes (chimpanzee scientific name) and Homo sapiens. Further data between genomic comparisons of the two reveal that humans diverged from chimpanzees about approximately four million years to eight million years ago. Four subspecies of Chimpanzees are found in the world as of today:
The tshego or Central African chimpanzee (chimpanzee scientific name - P. troglodytes troglodytes),
The west African or masked chimpanzee (chimpanzee scientific name - P. troglodytes verus),
The east African or long-haired chimpanzee (chimpanzee scientific name - P. troglodytes schweinfurthii) and,
The Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee (chimpanzee scientific name - P. troglodytes ellioti).
Given below is the image of a chimpanzee on 9th December 2006, who was born in 1944. This chimpanzee lived so long in captivity at the Jane Goodall sanctuary, named after the most famous chimpanzees’ researcher Jane Goodall.
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Features of Chimpanzee Species
The species of chimpanzees is widely characterized by the black or brown fur coat formed by the keratinous hair. This hair does not cover the face although in some cases a beard might be present. Just like humans, they have varying sizes and weights but on average the chimpanzee species stand 1 - 1.7 meters tall and weigh around 32 - 60 kgs. The males of the species are sturdier than their female counterparts. The skin colour of the chimpanzees is usually white with the exceptions of the face, palms (hands) and feet which are naturally black in colour. Towards the extreme end of the chimpanzee lifespan, they tend to shed hair from the forehead becoming bald and the back becomes grey.
A Day in the Life of a Chimpanzee
As mentioned above chimpanzees or chimps (as they are also known), live in tropical forests. This chimpanzee habitat provides them with all the necessary requirements for their nutrition and shelter. They usually get up at dawn and spend most of the day either resting or searching for food. They rest up till midday and in the late afternoon, they go for an intensive feeding period. The chimpanzees have their food in the trees and mostly reside there. They use their hands and feet to move around. They have the ability to leap and swing by their strong arms from trees to trees.
For travelling long distances, they cover it on land by using all four limbs. While walking on the ground, they utilise their knuckles as well. The chimpanzees are generally vegetarians and stick to diverse varieties of fruits and vegetables, berries, leaves, blossoms, and seeds in their diet. Even then they have the ability to hunt and sometimes include bird eggs and chicks, carrions, various mammals such as monkeys, duikers, bushbucks and wild pigs. A fun chimpanzee fact is that they have the knowledge of utilising plants for medicinal purposes such as to cure diseases and remove intestinal parasites. The average chimpanzee lifespan in the wild is less than 15 years and in captivity, it is 39 years.
Reproduction in Chimpanzee
Chimpanzees mate throughout the year. Although, this largely depends on the sexual receptiveness of the females. Since different females in a group or community become receptive at different times the mating continues throughout the year. Females only become sexually receptive when there is plenty of food available and easily accessible. Females can mate with any male within the group or community or neighbouring communities or form a courtship with another male for the process of reproduction. This creates the possibility of genetic diversity within the species.
The female bears the child after a gestation period of about eight months. The newborn baby usually clings to the mother as it is almost helpless and weighs about 1.8 kgs. Then from six months to two years, the child rides on its mother's back. By the fourth or the sixth year, the weaning of chimpanzees takes place and infancy ends. From the sixth to ninth year, the chimps are juvenile. During this period while remaining close to the mother, they interact with other members of the community. Adolescent females move with the groups and their mothers whereas adolescent males move with other males of the group participating in activities like hunting and boundary patrolling.
The Chimpanzee Society
The chimpanzees are lively animals that live in loose or flexible groups or communities. The chimpanzee habitat includes activities that result in strong personal bonding. They are much more extraverted than either the gorillas or orangutans with which they are usually compared. The associations are formed between the adult males within their particular territory and region which may be as small as a few square kilometres. In the typical chimpanzee habitat of the forest, these territories are widespread covering hundreds of square kilometres. Usually, a community consists of 20 members or less but can sometimes extend beyond 100 members. There are different levels of organization in large groups with the formation of subgroups within the groups or parties.
Within a group, sometimes there is a hierarchical structure indicating social dominance. Adult males are dominant over adult females and adolescent chimps. There is usually two to three times the number of adult females as much the number of males. Even though there is a hierarchy, it is practised by adult males and not strict to be followed. This means that a particular adult member is free to leave and join any other group or community showcasing fluidity. The hierarchical structure is usually headed by a dominant alpha male. He can exhibit control over ovulating females for control of reproduction. The dominant alpha in turn can be challenged and expelled by a gang attack organised by subordinate male chimps.
Typically, a male chimpanzee remains a part of the group he is born in. This is not the case with females. They rarely remain with the same group that they are born in and migrate to newer groups when they mature. Most of the chimpanzee lifespan of a female is with their offsprings or other females. The females are sometimes known to orchestrate an attack along with other males against a bullying alpha. They can do so sometimes against a newly immigrated female as well.
The relationships between different chimpanzee communities can be stressed. They tend to be hostile when there is an intruder in the group’s home territory. They can attack a neighbouring group or vice-versa. For this reason, adult males engage in boundary patrolling. On some occasions, infanticide and cannibalism is done by adult males and very rarely by females. Victims can be not only of the neighbouring groups but also of the home groups as well. The infants of a newly immigrated female can also be killed. This is because of the competition between members of the same sex within and in-between the communities. Sometimes when an adult male and female engage in courtship outside the group and are exclusive leaving the group behind, they are more prone to such violent attacks.
It is evident from above that chimpanzee species exhibit complex social and behavioural modules. They engage in cooperation during combat, cultivation of interpersonal relationships such as coalitions and alliances, reciprocal grooming and sharing of food (sometimes in exchange for mating opportunities). Therefore, the chimpanzees can be said to engage in ‘trade’ activities. They console, reconcile, and retaliate during fighting showcasing emotion and psychological aspects that are common amongst humans. They show self-recognition, curiosity, sympathy, grief, and attribution - which are expressly shown by humans. Other similar human characteristics within chimpanzees include taking care, teasing, concealing information that would bring disadvantage to themselves and manipulation.
Chimpanzee Species - An Intelligent One
The chimps are highly intelligent species as concluded by different researchers. They are found to have been able to solve a diverse set of problems posed to them by the human trainers and experimenters. As chimpanzees are adept at learning things, researchers have taught them to use sign languages and identification of pictorial representation. It is still debatable that can the chimpanzees actually learn speaking words or even identifying them.
Usually, the chimpanzees communicate with the help of facial expressions, gestures, and a diverse set of vocalizations, including screams, hoots, grunts and roars. For example, males display excitement by standing erect and other gestures such as stamping or swaying and screaming in different patterns. Chimpanzees take part in long-distance communication and short-distance communication by varying the degree of the gestures and screaming calls. These great apes also are seen smiling and grilling similar to human expressions of joy.
Chimpanzees are known to hunt and participate in violent activities. Their utility of the tools is proof of their intelligence in such activities. Not only in hunting and attacking but also in the gathering and scavenging of food the chimpanzees utilise tools. They use grass stalks, vines, branches, peeled bark and midribs of leaves to make probes for fishing termites and ants. Stones, roots and wood are used to crack open nuts or as hammers or anvils. For drinking water sometimes the chimpanzees use leafy sponges. Even during courtships, they use branches and leaves. The chimpanzees throw rocks and drag and throw branches while facing threats. While an inspection of dangerous items such as dead pythons they use sticks.
Grooming is also one of the activities that the adults perform. They use leaves for hygienic purposes of wiping the mouth and solid body parts.
Thus, according to the different habitats and the surroundings the chimpanzees employ the use of various tools and tool composites by mixing and matching. The younger chimps usually learn the tricks of tool utility from the adults and are also capable of adapting them to their own needs. Such vital and survival chimpanzee information is passed on from one generation to the next through social learning and shared amongst most members of a single age or sex in a given homegroup.
The intellectual capacities of the chimpanzee species make them prime subjects for psychological, medical and biological experiments. There are a lot of incidences where young chimpanzees become emotionally attached to their human trainers and their expressions depict their emotional bonding with humans as compared to other animals.
Conservation of Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees are considered to be endangered species. They are mostly found only in the habitats of savannah tropical forests. Their wild population has been hunted down primarily for the meat. The increase in human activities such as logging or farming has led to the destruction of chimpanzee habitats. They are also commercially exported for use in zoos and research laboratories. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has noted that although the chimpanzees have one of the largest ranges of the great apes, their populations have fallen over time. Additionally, the chimpanzees are also preyed upon by lions and leopards thus further adding to their declining population.
Conclusion About Chimpanzees
The chimpanzee facts provided in this detailed article paint a vivid picture of the peculiarities and unique characteristics of the chimpanzee species. Although there is quite enough distinction between different types of chimpanzees across the diverse subspecies, most of the attributes are common to all of the chimpanzees and some of the traits are shared even by the bonobos who are part of the same Pan family like the chimpanzees.