Scientific Name: Pan troglodytes
Chimpanzees share 98.6% of their genetic DNA with humans. Watching the interactions and behaviour of the chimpanzees at Sweetwaters will reveal many uncanny resemblances to humans. Like us, chimpanzees are known to make use of tools – using rocks to crack tough nuts and long, thin twigs to fish for termites. They are the only primates to have developed tool use to such an advanced level.
Chimpanzees are part of the great ape family along with orangutans, gorillas and bonobos. Adult males stand at over a metre tall and weigh between 35 and 70 kilograms. Chimpanzees have long arms for climbing and nimble hands and feet with opposable thumbs to grasp objects and branches. They are omnivores, and while their diet mainly consists of ripe fruit, young leaves and seeds, they will eat insects, eggs, nestlings and occasionally hunt small mammals.
Chimpanzees are extremely sociable animals, living in complex communities of between 15 and 100. The groups are led by a dominant male (the “alpha” male) who establishes a hierarchy based on physical strength, age and intelligence. As in human politics, how popular you are, and who you know, are also vital factors in establishing chimpanzee hierarchy. Chimpanzees spend hours grooming each other – grooming is a sign of affection, submission, love and an important way of maintaining friendship and family bonds. At dusk, wild chimpanzees build nests 6-25 meters above ground (by pulling over branches to make a soft bed).
The life expectancy for a chimpanzee is between 40 and 50 years in the wild and around 60 years in captivity. Female chimpanzees become sexually active in captivity from 8-9 years of age. On average, chimpanzees in the wild have their first babies when they are approximately 11-12 years of age. Males become fertile when they are approximately 10 years of age in the wild and earlier in captivity. The gestation period is 7 ½ - 8 months and chimpanzee’s labour normally lasts only 40 minutes. The average time between babies is approximately 3-5 years. For the first six months of life offspring are in constant contact with their mother. For the first four months, the juveniles will suckle approximately every three hours. Independent travel and weaning occur at about five years of age. Solid food consumption starts from 4-6 months of age and increases as the suckling reduces.