Chimpanzees in Africa: All you need to know

There are 3 subspecies of the common chimpanzee which include the eastern, central, and western chimpanzees. However, in a paper published in Nature, a multidisciplinary Science Journal scientists imply that there could be another subspecies known as  Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. Given that its habitat range is bisected by the Niger river.

The classification shows that there are 4 subspecies of African chimps which all have a common attribute. They share 98% of their DNA with humans, making them man’s closest relatives. Chimps are one of the 4 kinds of great apes in the world including gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans. The most fundamental scientific research on the origins and evolution of humans indicates that our ancestors were apelike. Given that most of the physical and behavior characteristics of apes are almost shared by all people. From occasionally walking upright on two legs, use of hands and tools to hunt for food, to social life.


In particular, one of the key attributes of chimps is that they share 60% of their personality traits with humans. Speech is the only thing that puts man above the primates. According to the nonhuman rights foundation, chimpanzees are one of the few nonhuman animals whose legal status should be changed from that of property to that of persons by the law. For instance, when primatology started to gain momentum as an academic area of study in the western world in the 1960s, psychologists named Maurice and Jane at the University of Oklahoma, USA raised a chimpanzee as a human being, as an experiment in nature vs. nurture.

Since then field studies have allowed people to observe closely and study the behavior of wild chimpanzees in various parts of Africa. One of the notable figures is Jane Goodall, the first woman to study eastern chimpanzees in Gombe stream national park in the East African nation of Tanzania. The Jane Goodall Institute now has field research stations in Uganda, Mali, Senegal, and the Central African Republic where it studies both chimpanzee species. Some of the top wildlife conservation organizations in the world including the Wildlife Conservation Society are also actively working with local communities to save chimps across their range. The species’ status on the IUCN Red List and estimated population counts are now known by researchers. Travelers can observe chimps in the wild through primate trekking tours available for booking through a tour operator.

Eastern chimpanzee


The Eastern chimpanzee (pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) is found in Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Burundi. The Congo river basin is home to the greatest population of eastern chimpanzees with between 173,000 and 248,000 individuals. DR Congo’s Virunga national park offers a chimpanzee habituation experience, which was recently opened in the Mikeno volcano area near Rumangabo visitor center. Uganda has over 5,000 chimps, which is almost the world’s second largest estimated population of eastern chimpanzees. The chimps live in both dense forests and tropical savanna woodlands including Budongo forest, Toro Semliki wildlife reserve, Kibale forest and Queen Elizabeth national parks. As such, Uganda offers the best opportunities to see chimps in the wild with both chimpanzee tracking and habituation experiences. Kibale forest alone has 2 chimp research stations including Ngogo and Makerere University Field Station that provide volunteer and internship opportunities. Rwanda is home to over 400 chimps of which most are found in Nyungwe forest and a small number in Gishwati Mukura national park. Tanzania has less than 2,500 chimps found in both Gombe stream and Mahale mountains national parks. Lastly, Burundi has the least number with  less than 450 individuals in Kabila national park.

Habits,  lifestyle, and diet

Eastern chimps are the smallest, with adult males weighing on average 40 kg and females 33 kgs. They grow to a height between 120 to 140 cm with shorter limbs and longer hands, which enables them to climb to the tree tops to search for fruits. Their darker hair and skin complexion, round head with thinner brow ridges, bare feet, hands, and head makes them easy to distinguish from other subspecies. The apes can live for 50 years in captivity and 15 to 25 years in the wild. Given that they are omnivorous, they consume both plant materials including bark, flowers, leaves, and fruits as well as termites, honey, and meat (6%) from animals they hunt such as monkeys and birds.

Central chimpanzee


The central chimpanzee (pan troglodytes troglodytes) inhabits dense tropical lowland and swamp forests in west coast parts of DR Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Cameroon. By physical appearance, the central chimpanzee is the largest of the 4 subspecies. Mature males can weigh up to 59 kg (132 pounds) and females 43 kg (97 pounds). However, they are shorter in stature than their eastern cousins. Males have a height of 80 cm reach and females 96 cm.

The best places to see them include Gabon’s Lope national park. The UNESCO world heritage site is rich in biodiversity including mandrills, forest elephants, and western gorillas. The Central African Republic is home to over 10,000 chimpanzees of which most are found in Tchimpounga nature reserve. The animals aren’t habituated for tourism, however, within this protected Jane Goodall Institute operates a chimpanzee rehabilitation center. Visitors can observe the efforts of man to save primates that are the targets of poaching and the illegal pet trade. In Angola, chimpanzees are found in Mayombe Nature Reserve, which is part of the Congo basin in Cabinda province. You may not see chimps in the reserve since they’re not habituated, however. The park is rich in biodiversity including forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, rhinos, and the endangered African gray parrot.

The western chimpanzee 


The Western chimpanzees (pan troglodytes verus) are intermediary in terms of size. Given that they are slightly larger than the central species and slightly smaller than the eastern species. The weight of males at maturity is 47 kg and 41 kg for females. The primates are critically endangered species on the IUCN red list. There are between 21,300 – 55,600 individuals in the wild. Due to habitat loss and poaching, their population is decreasing across their range in Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana. The Jane Goodall Institute is concentrating on Mali, where chimpanzees have adapted to semi-arid conditions and in Senegal at the northernmost limit of their range. As such, the western chimpanzee has unique behavior not observed among other species. For instance, they have been seen using stone throwing tactics and throwing stones into hollow trees, a sport that early humans played. The chimps are known to craft spears from wood, a technique that was used by hunter-gatherers including Batwa pygmies. On your Uganda gorilla safari, you may encounter the Batwa pygmies in Mgahinga gorilla national park.

The Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee 


The habitat range of the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (pan troglodytes ellioti) is found in a restricted geographical area along the border between the two states in the Niger river basin. The species have limited distribution with about 900 – 1,000 individuals, making them an endangered species. According to the Primate Conservancy, the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee is closely related to its west African cousin. However, it was classified as a subspecies in 1997 due to their differences including that their face is darker and they have smaller ears and longer hair. A mature Nigeria-Cameroon male chimpanzee is about 70 kg in weight and 1.3 meters tall. Those intending to see Nigeria-Cameroon chimps can go on a safari to the Gashaka Gumti national park in Nigeria. The protected area covers 6,402 of which part of it interconnects with Tchabel Mbabo, an Important Bird Area in Cameroon. The park is rich in biodiversity including 366 species of birds and 103 mammal species such as forest elephants, mountain reedbuck, African, giant eland, and roan antelopes.

According to DNA and genetics data, the four common chimpanzee subspecies show both similarities and differences. As shown by DNA and genetic data. For instance, the eastern and central chimpanzees are closely related, as are the western and Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees.

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