A look into the eyes of chimpanzees reveals that you are staring into a thinking mind. Humans are not the only beings who have personalities. Chimpanzees have minds that are capable of rational thoughts, and altruism, and have a finely tuned sense of humor. They are a prime example of an extremely fine-tuned view of evolution and have always lived in harmony with the environment.
But at present, they sit, living out their miserable lives and watching with dead eyes from their cages. The chimpanzees cannot speak for themselves, but if they could, they would ask, ‘Why does the abundance of intelligence make humans stupid?
But our closest cousins, with whom we share around 98% of our genes, are disappearing at an alarming rate. The population of these highly social animals is declining by close to 3% each year. Almost a fifth of the great ape population was lost between 2005 and 2013 alone. And when you consider the extremely slow reproductive rate of these apes, even the slightest decline in population can be potentially very damaging to the overall population.
These findings indicate that chimpanzees, along with the other great apes, are facing a grave danger to their very existence.
Our Closest Cousins: Chimpanzees Share 98% Of Genes With Us
Chimpanzees are the closest living relatives of humans and share an incredible 98% of genes with us. They have 4 distinct subspecies, the Western, Eastern, Central, and the Nigerian-Cameroonian chimpanzee.
These 4 species have a wide difference in behavior between various regions and groups. So the extinction of even one of these subspecies would be a significant loss in biological and cultural legacy.
Physical Description Of The Chimpanzees
Typical chimpanzees have arms extending beyond their knees, prominent mouths, and opposable thumbs. While the palms, soles, face, and ears are bare-skinned, black or brown hair covers the remaining body.
Though chimpanzees stay on trees during the night, they are comfortable moving on the ground, walking on all fours, though they can move on their rear legs for over a kilometer. Young chimps swing from branches.
Chimpanzees inhabit the Savannah woodlands, the tropical wet forests, and the grasslands. They are found at sea level and up to 3,000 meters elevation.
Chimpanzees are extremely social and live in communities of pliable groups of both males and female-led by a principal male. Chimps join and exit the community freely and depend on others for reproduction and resources. Group size can range from 15 to 150. But the overall size of a group range from 15 to 80.
A meeting of 40 scientists took place in May 2019 in Leipzig in Germany to talk about the wild chimpanzee population. They collectively represented the work done in 8 different counties and their conclusion was compellingly similar.
Loss Of Habitat And Degradation The Biggest Threat To Chimpanzees
The chimpanzee communities that they studied have all been gradually ‘islanded.’ They agreed that the community of chimpanzees that they studied had over the years become isolated in their natural surroundings, as agricultural fields and human settlements had forced them into cramped forest spaces, that is where the forests themselves had not totally been turned into a wasteland. The scientist compared their living spaces to forest ghettos.
Christophe Boesch, who has worked with chimpanzees for over 4 decades, said that earlier he was used to driving for a hundred kilometers on dirt tracks to reach the boundary of the park, encountering elephants and chimpanzees on the way. But the forests have shrunk to just the park area and the chimpanzees have moved to the camp inside the park.
The natural habitats of chimpanzees are being degraded as forests are lost due to mining. Farming, logging, and other activities that go by the name of land development have accelerated the decline of primates throughout tropical Africa. The remaining patches of habitat are too small and isolated and leave the chimpanzees isolated.
Western Africa has suffered intense deforestation and only traces remain of the primary rainforests. The existing population of eastern, western, and Nigerian chimpanzees is confined to the remnant national parks and forest reserves.
The protection afforded to the chimpanzees has been destroyed by intense logging activities in such areas, leaving their habitats exposed to human intervention.
Hunting Chimpanzees For Their Meat
In multiple protected areas, poaching for meat and infants is common. ‘Bush meat’ has always been a leading source of dietary protein from the West and Central African tribes. But the isolated incidents of hunting for survival have been replaced by commercial hunting with the meat being moved to cities to be sold at a premium.
Hunting has taken a severe toll on the population of chimpanzees with 5% to 7% of the population decimated through hunting. Chimpanzees give birth once every five years. With their extremely slow rate of reproduction, it is an alarmingly high figure. Even low levels of hunting can decimate entire groups of primates.
Diseases Have Earlier Decimated Their Population
Chimpanzees have diseases similar to humans. In 2002, the outbreak of Ebola in humans coincided with the death of numerous chimpanzees and other apes in the region, including the central chimpanzees and the western lowland gorilla. Both populations were severely affected by the virus and their population was drastically reduced. The disease impacted Odzala National Park, which has a high density of great apes, the most.
Chimpanzees are also victims of crossover diseases, with the continuous expansion of the human population into their territories, chimpanzees are becoming more susceptible to new diseases.
Logging is another industry that has directly affected the chimp population. While it has destroyed the homes of many chimp communities, logging has also opened up the once impenetrable forests to human interference. This has opened up their habitat to hunters and poachers, ultimately leading to their destruction.
The once impregnable forests are now a freeway for loggers, hunters, poachers, and traffickers who bring death and destruction into the forests of Africa and decimate the magnificent great apes. They are shot down by farmers as they scourge for food in the fields, where their source of food once was.
The loss of land for multiple reasons, such as mining, infrastructure development, habitats, logging, and agriculture, has tightened the noose around the animals who once roamed the continent in their millions.
Multiple initiatives at various levels are being worked out to protect the species. Organizations have been working on the ground to identify the areas that need to be worked on, including stopping illegal miners,