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Chimp at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Tad Motoyama

Scientific Name: Pan troglodytes

The Los Angeles Zoo is home to one of the largest chimpanzee troops of any zoo in the country. Built in 1998, the Zoo's "Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains" habitat has been hailed by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall as one of the country’s finest chimpanzee habitats. Maintaining a healthy, diverse zoo population of chimpanzees is crucial to the survival of the species.

A Star is Born

Chimpanzees are highly intelligent and complex creatures. They are social animals and live in communities of up to 80 individuals. They are nomadic creatures, meaning that they sleep in a different place each night within a designated range of territory. They spend their days searching for food, and at night they build individual nests high up in the forest canopy.

You may have noticed that chimpanzees are capable of a wide variety of facial expressions that can reveal many emotions. These expressions, along with numerous gestures and at least 34 identified vocalizations, help chimpanzees communicate to other group members.

Chimpanzees are not only gifted communicators, but they are also skilled craftsmen. They create tools from natural objects and have been observed using rocks to smash nutshells, sticks as weapons, and even leaves as sponges. This fascinating behavior, however, is not instinctual, but is culturally acquired through observation. Their talent with tools can be attributed to their large brain, which enables them to exhibit a type of intelligence more like that of a human than does any other mammal. They also have highly developed hearing and sight, and like all apes, color vision.

Unfortunately, chimpanzees are currently on the endangered species list. Populations have decreased because of foresting, hunting, commercial exportation, and collection for scientific research. Although chimpanzees are protected in 34 national parks and reserves, laws can be difficult to enforce in remote regions.

Chimpanzees can be found all over Africa, from Senegal and Gambia to Uganda and Tanzania. They easily adapt to a variety of habitats including grasslands, tropical rain forests, and riverine and montane forests.

The chimpanzee is omnivorous, but its diet depends on its habitat. Chimps that live in the rain forest tend to eat more fruit and leaves, while chimps in grasslands prefer to dine on insects and other animals.

Biologically, the chimpanzee is closely related to humans, so many of their characteristics may seem familiar. The most remarkable physical similarity between chimpanzees and humans is the opposable thumb. The thumb allows chimpanzees to grab objects and use tools much like we do. Their skin is mottled or dark in color and covered in long black hair that grays with age. It has big, bare ears and a pronounced brow ridge. Its arms are a great deal longer than its legs, and although it is able to stand upright for short periods of time, it normally uses its knuckles to rest its body weight on. The male stands about 5 feet tall and weighs up to 150 pounds. Females are slightly smaller.

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