Western and central Africa


Tropical rain forest, lowland and mountain forests

The knuckle-walker

Chimpanzees are very familiar to us humans, perhaps because so much of their behavior reminds us of ourselves. They are considered great apes, just like gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos. Their distinctive mode of travel—walking on the sole of each foot and the knuckles of their hands—have earned them the title of knuckle-walkers.

Take a good look

There is no hair on a chimpanzee’s face, hands, or feet, but the rest of its body is covered with either long black or brown hair. Unlike other primates such as monkeys and baboons, chimps don’t have a tail. But they do have large ears that stick out a bit, which helps them hear other chimps in a dense forest. Like humans, chimps have opposable thumbs to help them grasp branches or grab a bite to eat, as well as fingernails and toenails.

Chimpanzees don’t like to be in water and usually can’t swim.
Some observers have noted chimpanzees feeding on medicinal plants when they are ill or injured.
Research has shown that chimpanzees and humans share 98 percent of their genes.
Chimpanzees can recognize themselves in a mirror.
Chimpanzees make a grunting sound when they are happy. A toothy "grin" actually indicates fear or anxiety.

Our chimpanzee history began in 1930 with the arrival of Tim, a cocky young male chimpanzee about six or seven years of age. In 1932, a four- or five-year-old female named Katie arrived to keep him company. Their first baby, George, was born in 1938. At his birth, George and his mother were separated from Tim because we wished to take no chance that Tim might hurt his son. We found, however, that Tim took a paternal interest, poking his finger through the dividing mesh partition to touch him. Katie missed Tim and often sat close to him with only the partition between them. And so, we soon reunited the little family. Tim participated in George’s care and upbringing. This was a somewhat unusual procedure for zoos at the time, but we found that it worked well for our chimpanzees.

We continued to exhibit chimpanzees until 1976, when our focus shifted to other primate species. The San Diego Zoo does not have chimpanzees in our collection at this time.

Because they are so smart, chimps have been involved in many scientific studies, and unfortunately some people keep them as pets. Taking them from the wild has caused a decline in their populations. People also hunt chimps for food (bushmeat) or to protect their crops from being eaten by hungry chimps. These conditions, plus loss of habitat, have resulted in the chimpanzee being an endangered animal.

You can help us bring species like chimpanzees back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.