Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are great apes that live in tropical forests and woodland savannahs across central and west Africa. The common Chimpanzee is a distinctive black-coated ape that’s more closely related to man than to any other living creature, sharing 98.7 percent of our genetic blueprint. Science research also strongly suggests we share a common ancestor.

A chimp has long arms with opposable thumbs; hair color brown to black; adults similar in size to adolescent humans. At standing height, a male chimp grows up to 1.2 m (4 ft.) and weighs 60 kg (132 lbs.), and a female grows up to 1.1 m (3.5 ft.) and weighs 47 kg (103.6 lbs.).

Social Structure of Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees live in a large, loosely bonded ‘community’ (called a band or troop) based around a core of related males with an internal hierarchy topped by an alpha male. Females are generally less strongly bonded to their core group than are males, which means emigration between communities is very common.

Chimpanzee troops are made up of around 15 to 80 members. Within their communities, chimps sleep, travel, and feed in smaller sub-groups of up to ten. These sub-groups can be very flexible, with members changing quickly and regularly.

Mother—child bonds are strong. Daughters typically leave their mother only after they reach maturity, at which they may break relations between them. Mother—son relations have survived for over 40 years.

A troop has a well-defined core territory which is fiercely defended by regular boundary patrols.

Chimpanzees are experts at grooming and spend a lot of their time running their fingers through each other’s hair to remove dirt, pesky parasites, and dead skin. Grooming is an essential activity for social bonding – it not only keeps them clean but helps them build friendships and strengthen bonds with each other, too.

Common chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest

Intelligence

After humans, chimpanzees are the most intelligent of our planet’s primates (an animal group that includes apes and monkeys, too), and they’ve developed remarkable ways of communicating. These clever critters “talk” to each other using different gestures, facial expressions, and numerous vocalizations, too, such as hoots, grunts, and screams.

In language studies in the USA, researchers have taught the chimps to communicate in American sign language. They’ve demonstrated their understanding, in some instances, by even creating compound words for new objects (such as rock-berry to describe a nut).

Primatologists have recorded chimpanzees using modified tools like sticks to ‘fish’ in termite mounds. In other instances, researchers have observed chimps cracking nuts open using a stone and anvil.

Diet

When it comes to food, chimpanzees aren’t exactly fussy! Fruit is at the top of their menu, but they also munch on leaves, flowers, seeds, bird eggs, insects, and even other animals, too, such as monkeys and wild pigs. Some groups of chimps eat up to 200 different kinds of food.

In Tanzania’s Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains national parks, Primatologists have recorded chimpanzees regularly hunting red colobus monkeys.

Researchers in Kalinzu Forest in Uganda have observed chimps eating blue and red-tailed monkeys, as well as unsuccessful attempts to hunt black-and-white colobus.

Chimpanzees are typical animals of the rainforest and woodlands from Guinea to western Uganda. Their behavior has been studied since 1960 by Jane Goodall and others at Gombe Stream and other sites across Africa, including the Budongo and Kibale forests in Uganda.

Chimpanzee tracking in kibale forest

Gestation

Females generally give birth to a single chimp (or occasionally twins) every five to six years. For the first six months, the baby chimpanzee clings to the fur on its mother’s belly and then later rides around on her back until the age of two.

After that, the youngster will spend the next seven to ten years by its mother’s side, learning how to find food, use tools, and build nests to sleep.

Like humans,  chimpanzee infants rely on their mothers for support, protection, and education. The bond between a mother chimpanzee and her infant is like the one we as humans share with our mothers.

Where to see chimpanzee in Uganda

Chimpanzees live in most of the forests of western Uganda. Uganda offers the best chimpanzee tracking opportunities on the continent, with researchers recording over 5000 individuals.

Uganda Wildlife Authority habituated several chimp troops for primate tourism in Kibale Forest National Park, the Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semliki Wildlife Reserve, and the Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi forests Murchison Falls National Park.

Chimpanzee tracking excursion starting from Kanyanchu trailhead in Kibale Forest offer the best opportunities to see chimpanzee in the wild. You can trek chimps in Uganda for a price of a chimp permit costing USD 150 per person or opt for a chimpanzee habituation experience that gives you a whole day with a chimp troop for USD 200 per person.

Chimpanzee Viewing

Local tour operators (like Nkuringo Safaris) offer all-inclusive primate safaris typically starting from Entebbe. The atypical trip starts from Entebbe, heads to Kibale Forest (300 km west), and spends two nights.

Later the trip can connect to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a savannah game drive and boat safari. If not interested in the savannah big game, or after, one can connect directly to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and see the mountain gorillas.

The gorilla forest and Kibale forest are quite some distance apart. One can brave the 11-hour drive, but operators usually recommend a night between the two destinations.

There are small chartered or scheduled flights between Kasese airport (55 km, 1.5-hour drive from Kibale) and Kihihi airstrip (2.5-hour drive from Bwindi). This a great option between the two primate destinations.

References

  • Maternal Behavior by Birth Order in Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)
    Increased Investment by First-Time Mothers
    Margaret A. Stanton, Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf, Anne E. Pusey, Jane Goodall, Ph.D., and Carson M. Murray
  • THE UNIQUE AND FASCINATING LIVES OF CHIMPANZEE MOMS 
  • Chimpanzee CommunicationInsight Into the Origin of Language
  • The bonobo genome compared with the chimpanzee and human genomes
    Kay Prüfer, Kasper Munch, Ines Hellmann, Keiko Akagi, Jason R. Miller, Brian Walenz, Sergey Koren, Granger Sutton, Chinnappa Kodira, Roger Winer, James R. Knight, James C. Mullikin, Stephen J. Meader, Chris P. Ponting, Gerton Lunter, Saneyuki Higashino, Asger Hobolth, Julien Dutheil, Emre Karakoç, Can Alkan, Saba Sajjadian, Claudia Rita Catacchio, Mario Ventura, Tomas Marques-Bonet, Evan E. Eichler, Claudine André, Rebeca Atencia, Lawrence Mugisha, Jörg Junhold, Nick Patterson, Michael Siebauer, Jeffrey M. Good, Anne Fischer, Susan E. Ptak, Michael Lachmann, David E. Symer, Thomas Mailund, Mikkel H. Schierup, Aida M. Andrés, Janet Kelso & Svante Pääbo. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11128