Did you Know that Chimpanzees are Great Apes and not Monkeys?

  • Great apes include chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos and humans. There are several differences between great apes and monkeys.
  • Great apes don’t have tails, while most monkeys do.
  • Apes generally have larger bodies and bigger brains than monkeys. The bodies of apes are built for different forms of locomotion – swinging the arms (also called brachiating) in the air, and knuckle-walking on their hands and the soles of their feet on the ground. Sometimes chimpanzees even walk upright, or bipedal, on their legs.
  • Most monkeys cannot swing from branch to branch, as apes can, because their shoulder blades have a different structure. Instead, monkeys run along the tops of branches.

Chimpanzees Fast Facts

  • Scientific name: Pan troglodytes (cave dweller)
  • Four geographically distinct populations
    • Pan troglodytes verus – western Africa
    • Pan troglodytes troglodytes – central Africa
    • Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii – eastern Africa
    • Pan troglodytes vellerosus – Nigeria and Cameroon
  • Height – 3 to 5 feet
  • Weight – females: 70-100 lbs in wild; 66-176 lbs in captivity
    • males: 90-130 lbs in wild; 150-200 lbs in captivity
  • Habitat – tropical rain forests to woodland savanna and grasslands
  • Diet – omnivorous, eat more than 250 different food types
  • Lifespan – 30 to 40 in the wild and captivity; however, there are a few captive chimps in their 60s and the chimpanzee thought to be the oldest in captivity may be in her 70s.
  • Status – “Endangered” in wild and “Threatened” in captivity
  • Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans genetically than they are to gorillas


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 along the equator. They can also be found in open woodlands, bamboo forests, swamp forests, and even open savannah where there are some forested areas. In savannah areas, they rarely venture far into the grassland except to move from one forest patch to another.

Chimpanzee Politics

There is a dominance hierarchy among chimpanzees in a community, particularly among the males.

The Alpha Male – The Dominant Male or Boss in a Social Group

Displays: The dominant male often charges and displays by bristling his hair, dragging or shaking branches and banging or stomping on whatever he can find. These displays make the male look powerful and large, often more so than he may actually be.

Coalitions: Power-wielding coalitions are formed between individuals of both sexes. The ability for a male to enlist support during conflict is one of the most important factors in attaining and maintaining his rank. A male does not have to be the largest or the strongest of the group to attain alpha status – a smart, cunning male that knows how to manipulate social situations may gain the top position with the appropriate allies and friends. The alpha male typically keeps the peace in the group by settling disputes and maintaining social order. Most disputes within a community can be solved by threats rather than actual attacks. The alpha male also protects his group and is usually the first to lead the group to a new location or on a patrol.

Advantages of being alpha male: Alpha males frequently take meat and preferred foods from others. Access to females and the reproductive benefits that follow are one of the biggest advantages of being the alpha male. Alpha tenure lasts between three and 10 years, and only a few males achieve top rank.

Chimpanzees are Territorial

  • In the wild, they may wage “war” on neighboring communities.
  • Home territories can range from 30 to 150 square miles.
  • Males patrol boundaries of their home range.
  • Males will make short trips into neighboring territories in search of enemies.
  • Strangers are not well received in established communities, except in the case of a female who is ready to mate.
  • A meeting between two rival groups can result in serious injuries and even death.

Other Education Links


ABC Teach: the educator’s online resource

American Society of Primatologists

Disney’s Chimpanzee movie extras and educator’s guide

Primate Education Network

Prime-Time Primates Teaching Guide

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Education

Earth Rangers Wild Wire Blog for Kids

Kids for Research

Lincoln Park Zoo’s Chimp Care

Pan African Sanctuary Alliance

The Jane Goodall Institute’s Links for Students

Google Maps – Walk in Jane Goodall’s Footsteps

NAPSA – North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]