Three chimpanzees sitting on the branch of a tree


Pan troglodytes

Why are chimpanzees important?

Chimpanzees, as well as other great apes, play a vital role in seed dispersal. Their dung contains whole seeds which promotes plant growth in areas of clear forest. So, these apes help to rejuvenate the ecosystem, and have a potentially positive influence on forest restoration efforts.

Key Chimpanzee Facts

Chimpanzee illustration


There are four sub-species of chimpanzee: western (P. t. verus), Nigeria-Cameroon (P. t. ellioti), central (P. t. troglodytes) and eastern (P. t. schweinfurthii)

Chimpanzee illustration


Western chimpanzeesCritically Endangered; Nigeria-Cameroon, central and eastern chimpanzeesEndangered

Chimpanzee illustration


~140,000* central chimpanzees, declining / ~181,000-256,000* eastern chimpanzees, declining / ~18,000-65,000* western chimpanzees, declining/ ~6,000-9,000* Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, declining. Last assessed in 2016

* According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Chimpanzee illustration



Chimpanzee illustration


Primary and secondary forest, swamp forest, montane forest, dry forest, dry woodland savannah, and even farmland

Chimpanzee illustration


Equatorial Africa, from Senegal in West Africa to Tanzania in East Africa

Chimpanzee illustration


Chimpanzees are just under a metre tall; females weigh between 32kg and 45kg, whereas the males can weigh between 40kg and 55kg

Chimpanzee illustration


Poaching for bushmeat and the illegal pet trade, habitat loss and degradation, disease

Close up of a baby chimpanzee looking at the camera

Did you know?!

We share 98% of our genetic material with chimpanzees, making them our closest living relatives!

How to recognise a chimpanzee

There are four recognised sub-species of chimpanzee:

  • the western chimpanzee found in West Africa
  • the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee found only in Nigeria and Cameroon
  • the central chimpanzee found in Cameroon and Congo Basin
  • the eastern chimpanzee found in Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

As chimpanzees share about 99% of our DNA, making them the closest living relative of humans – some argue that they should be taxonomically categorised as Homo, the same genus as humans.

Chimpanzees are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of foods including fruit, pith, leaves, shoots, flowers, honey and bark, insects and larvae, as well as vertebrate prey such as red colobus, other species of monkey, duiker, young bushpig and bushbuck.

Chimpanzees are covered entirely in long, coarse black or brown hairs, except for their face, hands and feet which are hairless. As with the other ape species, chimpanzees do not possess a tail. Chimpanzees are famous for their opposable thumbs, giving them the dexterity needed to make and use tools.

A chimpanzee sits with another smaller chimpanzee peering around its arm

Chinoise © Limbe Wildlife Centre


Chimps range across a total area of about 2.6 million km2 throughout the forest belt across equatorial Africa, from Senegal in West Africa to Tanzania in East Africa. They inhabit a range of forest habitats from tropical rainforests, to lowland and montane forests.

Chimpanzee behaviour

Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, with complex social structures and distinct cultures. They are known to make and use tools, including:

  • stick tools for the extraction of ants, termites, honey and bees
  • stone and wood tools to crack nuts
  • fishing rods created from long branches to fish for algae
  • sponges made from leaves

Sick chimps have also been known to eat potentially medicinal plants.

Before Jane Goodall’s pioneering studies revealing tool use in chimpanzees, humans believed toolmaking was what made us distinct from other animal species. Now we know that chimps, some birds, and even some fish can make and use tools!

Chimpanzees are social, living in communities of up to 150 individuals. They live in a fission-fusion society, meaning they don’t stay together all the time, but form temporary associations with a subset of the group. Social hierarchies exist for both male and female chimpanzees. Males will assert their dominance through displays of aggression and have been known to attack, and even kill, trespassers in their territories.

Chimps have a wide repertoire of complex expressions, postures, and vocalisations for communication. They are quite vocal and use a variety of grunts, squeaks, screams and barks to express different emotions. Tactile communication, such as social grooming, is also vital to reconcile conflicts, ease stress, and develop and maintain bonds between individual chimps.

Female chimpanzees usually give birth to one infant, or occasionally twins. Infants are completely dependent on their mothers and travel with her on her back or stomach. Young chimps will become independent at about six to nine years old, although they will maintain lifelong bonds with their mothers.


A chimpanzee sitting high up on a branch

A chimpanzee sitting high up on a branch © Dreamstime

What are the threats to chimpanzees?

Read more about the threats to the world's chimpanzee population.

Many of the human communities living within the range of chimpanzees experience high levels of poverty. Unfortunately, these people may rely on poaching great apes, including chimpanzees, for subsistence and to provide an income. When adult females are killed, their infants may be taken and trafficked for the exotic pet trade, effectively removing two generations at once.

Chimpanzees have experienced extensive habitat loss and degradation across much of their range due to industrial logging and agricultural expansion. In particular, damaging agricultural practices such as ‘shifting cultivation’ (also known as slash-and-burn, in which an area of ground is cleared of vegetation and cultivated for a few years and then abandoned for a new area until its fertility has been naturally restored) rapidly degrade large areas of forest, and it can take decades to naturally recover.

Outbreaks of rapidly spreading infectious diseases, such as the Ebola virus and anthrax, have led to declines in chimpanzee populations. Although vaccinating wild chimpanzees is a possibility, such a project would be extremely difficult and infectious disease is likely to remain an issue into the future.

What is Born Free doing to help chimpanzees?

Born Free works to protect chimpanzees from the threats they face, both in the wild and in captivity. We support the rescue and care of individual chimps, and work to protect their natural habitats.
A chimp walking on all fours through the grass

Chimpanzee Conservation

Born Free runs a holistic conservation programme protecting great apes in Cameroon, as well as supporting chimpanzee conservation efforts in Uganda.
A tiny chimp inside a green plastic crate

Wildlife Trade

We campaign against the illegal trade in bushmeat from great apes and other threatened species, oppose the live trade in infant apes, and the keeping and exploitation of chimps in captivity.
Two chimps with their arms around each other sitting on a platform

Rescue & Care

Born Free supports the rescue, care, and release of chimps saved from the pet or bushmeat trades, through the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda and the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon.