My blog this week is in celebration of World Chimpanzee Day which is on the 14th July (this also happens to be Fritz’s birthday so it’s a double celebration).
So why is World Chimpanzee Day held on this date?
The 14th July, 1960 is the date a young woman called Jane Goodall first stepped foot into what is now Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, to study wild chimpanzees. This led to a study spanning over 55 years on the social and family interactions of wild chimps. You may have heard of Dr Jane Goodall, but if you haven’t here is a little bit about her.
She is a world renowned primatologist and anthropologist and considered the world leading expert on chimpanzees. She has received numerous awards for her environmental and humanitarian work including being named United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002, a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2003 and named as one of Time magazines 100 most influential people in World 2019. She also visited Wingham Wildlife Park back in 2016 to look at our Chimpanzee exhibit before they arrived.
Why should chimpanzees be celebrated?
Chimpanzees are our closest living relative in the animal kingdom, sharing 96% of our DNA. We come from the same family tree:
Being so closely related we share a lot of similar characteristics including tool making and use, social structures and communication. Did you know that chimpanzees are ticklish and will laugh when playing? In this video you can see Elizabeth and Elvira having a play session. If you watch Elizabeth you can see that her mouth is wide open and relaxed, this is her laughing.
What are the issues that are causing chimpanzees numbers to drop in the wild?
Chimp numbers have dropped from around 1 million in the 1900’s to between 172,700 & 299,700 today, causing them to be listed as Endangered on the IUCN red list.
There are many threats that face chimpanzees in the wild, one of these is disease. Diseases that can be spread between humans can also be spread to chimpanzees.
As their natural habitat shrinks because of human development they are coming into contact with more and more human diseases. If you watch the film ‘Jane’, which is a biographical documentary about Jane Goodall, you will see that whilst she was conducting her study the group of chimps she was looking at developed polio, a human disease, which claimed the life of one of the chimps.
Deforestation is a major threat for all wildlife. Trees are cut to make room for human growth and development leaving less and less space for animals. This in turn is leaving less and less food for them to eat as well as less space for them to thrive in. In West Africa it is estimated that 90% of the original rainforest has been wiped out and with Africa’s deforestation rate being twice that of the rest of the world’s rate, is it any wonder that species are under threat on this continent?
Bush meat is also a growing threat against great apes in Africa. People hunt wild animals such as chimpanzee to consume and sell their meat. In the process they may also obtain a baby to sell on the black market. This could create a huge problem, as numbers decline the remaining wild populations of chimpanzees cannot reproduce fast enough to replace their dwindling numbers. Did you know that female chimpanzees will usually only have a baby every 5-6 years. They invest a huge amount of time and energy in raising their young so that they are prepared for living in their habitats and with infants taking around 4 ½ years before they are weaned, it’s not surprising that they have such a long gap between babies!
Baby chimpanzees are incredibly cute and are almost like a human baby in their vulnerability when first born. But did you know that in order acquire an infant chimpanzee poachers must kill their entire family. Chimps will defend their infants to the death and in order to take one they must all be disposed of.
Is social media influencing the increase in the chimpanzee pet trade?
We’ve all seen the images and videos of chimps dressed up in human clothes whilst scrolling through Instagram or feeding other baby animals making them seem cute and docile. It’s images like these which are fuelling the demand for baby chimps being taken from the wild to have as pets. This gives the public a very warped image of what chimpanzees are like. They may look adorable when they’re babies and juveniles, but these animals grow up. Dr Goodall released a statement back in April this year condemning the recent internet video showing a juvenile chimp using a mobile phone. You can read her statement here.
We get asked quite regularly if we go in with our chimps at Wingham and the answer is a definite NO. Myself and the keepers happen to like our faces and hands as they are- not missing bits! Chimpanzees are extremely strong and can be very ferocious. In fact studies conducted on chimpanzees have shown that they like to watch violent films and are the only other species from our own, that murder other members of their own troop.
Taking chimpanzees away from their family also creates physiological problems later in life even to the extreme of self-harm. They are highly social animals that need the company of their own kind to thrive.
The consequences of chimps being kept as pets can be seen in the case of Travis the chimpanzee who attacked his owner’s friend, Charla Nash on 16th February 2009. This left Charla with devastating injuries to her hands and face. You can read more about Travis and Charla here.
Back to the positive…
Why I personally love chimpanzees is the connection you develop when working with them. Keepers connect with all their animals in different ways, but I feel chimps connect with you on a higher level. There are not many animals that look at you the way chimps do. They study you, interact with you and even know when something is wrong just from your body language. If we do have souls then chimps can definitely see yours once you build a relationship with them. It is my honour to be able to work with these animals and the biggest achievement in my career to say I have witnessed a baby chimpanzee born when Tara gave birth to Elizabeth on 19th January 2018.
If you would like to support chimpanzees in the wild our charity Wingham Wildlife Park Animal Welfare (WWPAW) is helping to fund community projects in Uganda. You can support us by sponsoring our staff who are taking part in 3 obstacle runs this year by going to https://winghamwildlifepark.co.uk/wwpaw/how-to-support-us/
Thank you from Fritz, Lucas, Georgia, Tara, Agatha, Elvira, Faye, Elizabeth and their wild cousins for supporting and celebrating World Chimpanzee Day with us.