Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 90 – The Common Chimpanzee


Glitter watches her sister Gaia fish for termites at Gombe National Park.

“Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved”
Jane Goodall

There cannot be many who do not know what a chimpanzee is.  It is probably one of the few wild animals most of us will have actually seen first hand, albeit in captivity.  But where numbers are concerned, captivity is not the problem per se.  It is, of course, Two baby chimpsa huge failure the way chimps are kept as pets and as items of display, to say nothing of the abhorrent practice of using them in so-called ‘science laboratories’.

Currently though, their problem lies in the wild where they are rapidly disappearing down the road marked extinction.  Happy as they are to reproduce, they cannot keep pace with the rate at which they are being killed.

Killed for their meat:  Not just for subsistence – chimp meat now fetches a high price on the open market for those who can afford this shameful diet.
Killed for their young:  Infant chimps are a valuable commodity on the black market.
Killed by diseases introduced by man:  Ebola has devastated whole populations.
Killed for their body parts:  To be used in worthless medicines.
Killed in experimental laboratories:  In the name of science.
Killed by lack of food and shelter:  Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of its forested area between 2000 and 2010 (FAO Global Resources Assessment 2010).  This included a very high percentage of the chimpanzees’ range.

Orphaned chimpsChimpanzees are one of the five great apes, along with gorillas, bonobos, orangutans and man; of those we are the only ones who are flourishing.  Together with their near cousins, the bonobos, chimpanzees are our closest living relatives.  We share almost ninety-nine per cent of our genetic blueprint with them, which is close by any standards.

Currently there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the status of chimps; whether or not they should be considered as proper legal persons, albeit with limited rights.  The argument is not about allowing the normal social liberties associated with being a member of a franchised society, but more about physical freedom and the right to live out their lives in peace, unfettered by the chains of captivity.  It is not proposed the chimps roam freely amongst us, hopping on and off planes, trains and buses, but that they are afforded tranquillity, dignity and sanctuary.

There are some very interesting links below discussing this and other legislation regarding chimpanzees.

Chimps in Uganda - USAID Africa BureauThere are four sub-species of chimpanzee: The Western chimpanzee (P. t. verus), the Central chimpanzee (P. t. troglodytes), the Eastern chimpanzee (P. t. schweinfurthii) and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (P. t. ellioti). All four are endangered. Reasons for this vary with location.

Chimpanzees have long arms, and opposable thumbs and big toes.  Their faces, ears, palms and soles of their feet are hairless. Their bodies are covered, in some parts thinly, with dark-brown to black hair.  They can grow quite large, a male chimp reaching over four feet in height, and weighing on average one hundred and thirty pounds.  Females are slightly smaller.

Chimpanzees are largely arboreal.  They swing through trees in search of food, and build nests in them.  They will build a new nest Chimpanzee at the Jane Goodall Institutealmost every day.  They also travel on the ground when covering long distances or in search of food not found in the trees. Although known as ‘knuckle-walkers’, they are capable of standing and walking upright.   Chimpanzees do not like water and cannot swim.  Any who do fall into water are in danger of drowning.

Sounds, facial expressions and body language are all used as forms of communications.  In the case of disputes, unlike their gentle cousins, the bonobos, who tend to kiss and make up, chimpanzees will ready for battle. Common chimpanzees can be quite aggressive and have been known to attack humans, too.  It is never wise to upset a full-grown male chimpanzee.  When angry they are able to draw upon an extraordinary amount of strength and an adult chimp is quite capable of overpowering a fully grown man.

But most of all, chimps have become known for their use of tools.  Most notably, the modification of twigs for extracting termites from mounds and the use of heavy objects to crack nuts.  These are skills that need to be learned.  They have also been observed fashioning spears out of small branches to hunt smaller mammals.

Mother and infant (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) Gombe Stream National ParkChimpanzees breed all the year round.  After a gestation period of eight months, a single infant will be born.  Twins are rare.  Newborns are totally dependent on their mothers (their sole carers) for support for the first two months of their lives. The quality of care the mother gives is essential to the emotional and physical growth and well-being of the infant.  This maternal dependency is long-lasting.  The relationship is close and they are rarely separated.   Babies cling to their mother’s underside at first and progress to the back when they are about five or six months old. By the age of two they will be able to move around and sit unaided, staying very close to mother, and by the age of three they will have started to move a little further away.  But it is not until they are five or six years old that they will be fully weaned and virtually independent.

A great deal of understanding of the behavioural patterns of the chimpanzee can be attributed to the ongoing work of primatologist, Dr Jane Goodall.   Best known for her study of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, Dr Goodall continues to support the chimpanzees to this day, at the age of seventy-nine.  She began her life’s work in 1960 and founded Gombe Stream National Park in 1965.

Natural Habitat
Tropical low altitude evergreen forest, mountain forest and forest-savannah mosaic.
Where
West and Central Equatorial Africa.
What they eat
Mainly fruit, chimpanzees love fruit, but they also eat plants (all parts) and insects. And, contrary to popular belief, chimpanzees are meat-eaters and will indulge themselves in other small mammals from time to time.
Threats
Habitat destruction caused by logging, mining, agriculture and road building. Excessive poaching for bushmeat and the taking of live infants for the illegal pet trade (and it is surprisingly easy to  buy a chimpanzee  on the internet). In some areas, chimpanzees are hunted for their body parts for use in Traditional medicine. They are also used extensively in scientific research. Human conflict over crops is another large problem. But the major threats to chimpanzees are the diseases passed on by humans. In particular, the Ebola virus.
Status: Endangered
The common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  All chimpanzees are listed under CITES Appendix I and as Class A under the African Convention. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the species as endangered in the wild, and threatened in captivity.

It is thought there are no more than 150,000 to 250,000 common chimpanzees left in the wild today.  This may seem a lot, but compared to the million or so which once roamed free in Africa, it is hardly surprising they are now considered endangered.  Man is killing them faster than the apes can reproduce themselves.  In some regions, the population has declined by 90% over the past twenty years.  In others, the common chimpanzee is now extinct.

Untold numbers of captive individuals exist in zoos, science laboratories, and private homes and establishments.

If more robust action is not taken soon to curb the slaughter of these delightful apes, and the spread of disease is not brought under control, there is a real possibility the chimpanzee may soon be extinct in the wild.

Related Articles
Considering the Humanity of Nonhumans  (New York Times Dec 9th 2013)
Judge Rules Chimps Can’t Be Legal Persons, But Activists Vow to Fight On (Dec 9th 2013)
Chimps give birth like humans
U.S. Research Chimps Heading to New Homes (Op-Ed) (Dec 4th 2013)
Bipartisan Chimpanzee Retirement Legislation Passes Senate (Nov 14th 2013)
Captive Chimpanzees May Get Endangered Status in US (June 11th 2013)
Chimps in Laboratories
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Protection for All Chimpanzees – Captive and Wild – as Endangered (June 11th 2013)
Illegal marijuana cultivation threatens Nigeria’s forests and chimps (July 26th 2013)