Chimpanzees are native to the tropical rainforests of West and Central Africa. As they adapt to deforestation, they are also living in woodlands, bamboo forests, swamp forests, even open savannah.
The life of a chimpanzee
Chimpanzees are highly intelligent and have rich social lives. They problem solve and invent tools. They communicate using facial expressions, postures, and a language of many sounds. Each chimpanzee has their own voice. Here at the zoo, our keeper staff can distinguish between chimpanzees without even having to see them.
Chimpanzees live in family groups that sometimes join much larger communities. These troops are multi-male, multi-female, and multi-generational. A male hierarchy determines social standing, with one male at the top or "alpha" position. Groups come together or split apart depending on how much food is available in the area. This is called fission-fusion.
Chimpanzees have opposable thumbs, allowing them to grasp objects. Long arms and fingers and mobile shoulder joints allow them to move easily both in the trees and on the ground. They are active throughout the day and feed on fruit, nuts, seeds, blossoms and leaves, insects, birds, birds' eggs and honey. Meat is a favorite food, and groups cooperate to hunt small to medium-sized mammals.
Adult males are 90 to 200 pounds and 28 to 33 inches tall. Females are smaller, at 66 to 176 pounds and 30 to 36 inches tall.
Female chimps give birth for the first time at 12 to 15 years of age, and give birth every 5 years or so. Pregnancy lasts 8 months. Newborn chimps weigh 2 to 4 pounds and are completely helpless. They are weaned at 4 to 5 years of age and may remain with their mother 10 or more years. Female chimps may remain with their mothers permanently.
The median life expectancy of a wild chimpanzee is 31.7 years for males and 38.7 years for females.
Chimpanzees are among the most threatened primates in Africa. At the turn of the 20th century, 2 million of them lived in Central and West African forests, but today only 100,000 to 200,000 remain in the wild. Poaching for the illegal pet trade, disease, and habitat loss due to deforestation combine to cause this steep decline.
Chimpanzees at the Oregon Zoo
The keepers work hard to make the chimps' lives as interesting and challenging as it is in the wild. They feed the chimpanzees several times a day by scattering their diet all over the exhibits. This keeps the chimps active and foraging much like they would in the wild.
Several enrichment items are given each day, as well as health check sessions. The keepers use positive reinforcement techniques for training. The chimps are trained for several behaviors such as getting on a scale for weights, presenting multiple body parts for inspection and allowing a Doppler machine to track their heart rate.