The Great Apes and us

We’re all guilty of anthropomorphism. It’s something Yago tapped into when he first came up with the idea for Zoo Portraits. But – more than with any other animal – when we look at apes,  we see ourselves.

The likening of the great apes to humans has happened all around the world, wherever we have come into contact with them. This can be seen in the common names we use for the different great apes today.

Mother and Cub of Bonobo in natural habitat. Close up Portrait. The Bonobo ( Pan paniscus), called the pygmy chimpanzee. Democratic Republic of Congo. Africa. By Sergey Uryadnikov | Shutterstock.com
Mother and Cub of Bonobo in natural habitat. Close up Portrait. The Bonobo ( Pan paniscus), called the pygmy chimpanzee. Democratic Republic of Congo. Africa. By Sergey Uryadnikov | Shutterstock.com

Genetic similarity

Not only do the great apes look like us, they act like us, too. Chimpanzees, for example, form extended family groups, they use tools and learn socially from one another. They display distinct personality traits and are capable of complex cognition, relating to recognition, reciprocity and empathy.

It’s quite simple really – they look and act like humans because, genetically speaking, they are remarkably similar to us. A study of chimpanzee and human genomesindicated a difference of just 1.2%. Bonobos also closely related to humans, whereas gorillas and other African apes are about 1.6% different.

What might come as a surprise is that chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans all show the same amount of difference from gorillas. In other words the DNA of chimpanzees is closer to ours than it is to the DNA of gorillas. It’s worth remembering…however you look at it, we are great apes!

Great apes and monkeys
Great apes and monkeys

The life of a chimpanzee – in numbers

4 is the number of recognised subspecies of chimpanzee: Central, Western, Eastern and Nigeria-Cameroon. In the past bonobos were considered pygmy chimpanzees. While they belong to the same genus (Pan), they are in fact a separate species.

300,000 is the approximate number of chimpanzees remaining in the wild. They live in forest and savanna habitat of West and Central Africa. However, other estimates are almost half this figure.

15-80 is the size range of chimpanzee communities. They form fusion-fission societies, which means, while they may belong to a large group, they tend to break off into smaller groups for some activities. These include foraging and sleeping.

6-8 hours is the amount of time chimpanzees spend foraging every day and are most active in the early morning and late in the afternoon. Their diets consist of fruits, leaves, honey, insects, and occasionally eggs and meat.

Common Chimpanzee - Scientific name- Pan troglodytes schweinfurtii portrait at Kibale Forest National Park, Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda, Africa. By Robin Nieuwenkamp | Shutterstock.com
Common Chimpanzee – Scientific name- Pan troglodytes schweinfurtii portrait at Kibale Forest National Park, Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda, Africa. By Robin Nieuwenkamp | Shutterstock.com

202-261 days is the range of the chimpanzee gestation period, just a little less than that of humans. Baby chimps become independent at around 6 years of age. After this, well into adulthood, they continue to spend a considerable amount of time with their mothers.

16 is the age at which chimps reach adulthood.

35-40 is the number of years a chimpanzee is likely to live for in the wild. In captivity, however, chimpanzees can reach over 70 years old.

350 is the vocabulary size of Washoe, a captive chimpanzee, who was taught American Sign Language.

1.5 the degree by which chimpanzees are stronger than humans. So, they are stronger than us, but not by that much. Typically we think of chimpanzees as having a super powerful bite. In fact, although humans have relatively small jaws, our jaw muscles are highly efficient, producing a force similar to that of chimps.

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