Gombe Stream National Forest

Illustration of chimpanzee family
Recognizing Chimpanzees

People who study chimpanzees can recognize them by their faces, their voices, the shape of their body and the way they move. Each chimp is just as unique in appearance and personally as you are. When you meet a group of chimps, study their faces and see if you can distinguish each one. Your guide should be able to tell you who they are. For easy reference each chimp has been given a name, but of course they do not know or respond to these names.



Look into the intelligent, warm brown eyes of a chimpanzee and you may see yourself not far below the surface, for you are looking at your closest animal relative. The chimpanzee is classified among the great apes, with the gorilla, orang-utan, and bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee). All are large, big-brained and tail-less, and an impartial observer from another planet would probably include us in the same group, perhaps in the same genus as the chimpanzee, with whom we share over 95% of our genes.

Chimpanzees are the most adaptable of the great apes, living in lowland and mountain forests, dry woodlands, and even open savanna country. They range across equatorial Africa from Senegal to Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. Across this range, three races (western, central and eastern) can be distinguished. The populations in the Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains National Parks thus represent the extreme south-eastern limit of the eastern race, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii.

Chimpanzees are covered in long black hair except for their faces, ears, fingers and toes. A baby chimp is born with light pink skin and a white"tail-tuft" of hair that signals immaturity. As it matures, its skin darkens, usually becoming deep brown or black, and the white tuft disappears at about 8-9 years. Young adults have sleek, glossy, very black coats. After about 20-25 years, males in particular tend to become brown or grey on the lower back and legs, and either sex may develop baldness or grey hair on the crown of the head. Many chimps live to be 30 or more, the oldest chimp known at Gombe so far was a female named Flo, who was at least 43 when she died.

At Gombe, adult males weigh 35-50 kgs., and adult females are slightly smaller at 32-37 kgs. They normally walk on all fours, and are then 70-80 cms high at the shoulder. A large male standing erect is about 130 cms high. Chimps in other areas and in captivity tend to be larger than the Gombe population.

Special Thanks to Thomson Safaris and Tanzania National Parks for contributing Tanzanian information.


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