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The Chimpanzee

The Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, is one of our closest relatives.  Apart from the Bonobo, Human beings are the closest living relative of the Chimp. Gorillas are more distant relations.

The Generic name, Pan, is from the Greek God of Shepherds.  The specific name, troglodytes, means cave dweller.  The name suggests a cave dwelling shepherd.  This is not a very good description of the Chimp. 

Chimpanzees are not known to keep any domestic animals and they usually live in trees rather than caves.  There have been observations of Savannah Chimpanzees using caves during the day on hot days.  They apparently go in to escape the heat and will also take food in to eat it in the caves.


Chimpanzees have binocular tricolour vision very similar to that of people. This good vision with its ability to judge distances is useful when swinging through trees.

In Humans, a surprisingly large amount of brain is dedicated to the interpretation of vision. Chimpanzees have smaller brains and it is likely that their interpretation of what they are seeing is inferior to ours.


Chimpanzees in zoos are often exposed to our music. Observations suggest that, like people, they have preferences for some types of music over others.

Ham the Astro Chimp

Before any Human had been in space it was not known if a pilot could actually do normal piloting things in the pseudo weightlessness of Earth Orbit. Animals had been sent into space, but all they had been required to do was survive. To test the effect of weightlessness on the performance of an intelligent being without risking a person it was necessary to send a trained animal up to perform specific tasks requiring intelligence and manual dexterity.

Ham was a four and a half year old Chimpanzee who had been in astronaut training from a very early age. He was sent into space and successfully completed his tasks with only a slight hesitation. Despite his training, it would have been impossible to explain to him in a way that he understood what weightlessness was going to feel like, even if his trainers really knew this themselves.

Chimpanzees and Bonobos

Some people use the word Chimpanzee for both these species.  I think this is very confusing, and in this article, Chimpanzee means Pan troglodytes only. Bonobos were only recognised as a separate species in 1926 and some older specimens may have been misidentified.


Chimps are animals, not Humans, despite considerable similarities. When they first came to the attention of modern Europeans they were considered to be Pygmies.  That is, a type of Human.


Chimps and Bonobos are tool making and using animals.  Most of the tools are wood although some stone is used, but probably not enough to qualify Chimpanzee culture as a Stone Age one. Chimpanzees make and use spears. These are generally just a suitable length of wood sharpened at one end with the animal’s teeth. Ape spears lack the sophistication of the ones made by people.


Chimpanzees are omnivores, eating both plant parts and animals. They prefer generally fruit to leaves, but they will eat whatever is available. They eat more meat and less fish than Bonobos, but less of both than many Humans. Chimpanzees will hunt things like small antelopes and goats as well as several types of monkey.  The meat is eaten raw; Chimps do not use fire.


There are two distinct types of habitat used by Chimpanzees.


Chimps will live in dense jungle.  This is the sort of place we normally associate with them.  In the jungle, they make nests in the trees to sleep.


Some groups of Chimpanzees have taken to living on the open Savannah. Here they are competing with the big cats: Leopards, Lions and perhaps Cheetahs.

Chimpanzees have been observed to attack and kill Leopards. When a pride of lions confronts a troop of savannah chimpanzees the result is likely to be a stand off with neither side attacking. At night the apes are more vulnerable to the big cats than during the day.

Both Jungle Chimpanzees and Savanah Chimpanzees will throw rocks , stick or anything suitable available to defend themselves or to attack. The Savannah Chimpanzees tend to be much better throwers and can hurl a rock with lethal force.


Chimpanzees are basically an animal that walks on all four legs although they are capable of some walking on two legs.  They are less upright in their walking and standing than Bonobos.


Chimpanzees are much stronger than Humans of the same weight, but the extent of this has sometimes been exaggerated.


A Chimpanzee running on four legs is faster than a Human.  Part of the extra strength and speed of the Chimpanzee comes by sacrificing stamina.  That is, their muscles are more like a Human sprinter or weight lifter than a distance runner.

Humans have better fine muscle control than any of the apes.  This may be another trade off with strength.


Human war involves a group of people setting out to either conquer or exterminate another group. There are some cases of war with more limited aims, but wars still involve the likely killing of numbers of Human Beings.

Chimpanzee wars are between two groups of Chimpanzees.  One sets out to take over the other group’s territory.  This can and frequently does mean the total extermination of one group.

Many animals fight. Some are even famous for this like the Siamese Fighting Fish, but the only two species known to make war are Humans and Chimpanzees.  Some people might want to include certain types of social insects in the war making list, but I consider these somewhat different.

Steve Challis