Area of zoo
Enclosure status
IUCN status
Scientific name
Pan troglodytes
Africa, from Guinea to western Uganda and Tanzania.
Forest & savannah

Chimpanzee facts 

Ten things you didn't know about chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are more closely related to us than to gorillas

It's well known that chimps are our joint closest relative, along with the bonobo, but we are also one of their closest relatives! They share 98.5% of their DNA with humans, but if you only consider active genes, it's more than 99%.

With chimps, family comes first 

Chimps live in what are called fission-fusion societies - small, changeable family groups (typically a mother and her sons) within a larger community of as many as 60 to 130 chimps. 

At the Zoo, we have an adult family group of five chimps. Bonnie is the mother of two sons, Phil and Elvis, she is a devoted, protective mum. The group also includes male Grant and 'adopted aunt' Koko. 

Chimp communication 

Chimps are constantly 'talking' to each other and zookeepers. One study on chimps in Uganda identified 66 gestures they use to convey meaning and 19 specific messages, including flirting (tearing strips from leaves with the teeth) and offering a ride to infants (showing the sole of the foot). 

From chest scratching to subtle facial expressions, chimps are constantly communicating - both verbally and non-verbally. Our chimps use threat gestures to put us in our place, throwing up the hand to show the back of the palm. Koko will also blow raspberries at us, meaning "give that to me!". 

Chimpanzee howling as communication

Chimpanzee tool use

They were the first non-human animals to be observed making and using tools. Archaeologists believe chimps in Africa's Ivory Coast have been using stones as tools to crack open nuts for at least 4,300 years. 

Our chimps will use sticks broken down to size to poke at out-of-reach food, pick grass to dry themselves, and use hard surfaces in their enclosure to smash coconuts.

Chimpanzees using tools to find food

Chimpanzees politics

Chimpanzees may be the most aggressive of the great apes, but ferocity isn't everything. Dominant males will put on displays of strength - screaming, running around, shaking branches. In the wild, that can be a good thing: it's been shown that if very aggressive males do make it to the top spot, they don't tend to keep that ranking very long, perhaps because they lack popular support. 

Displaying chimpanzee male

Chimp problem-solving 

Chimps love solving problems, a study on our group at the zoo found they would solve a puzzle (pushing red dice through a maze of pipes) without a food reward - suggesting that, like humans, they relished the challenge for its own sake. 

We're always thinking up new puzzles for our playful chimps as part of our enrichment programme, which encourages natural behaviour by extending meal times and providing a stimulating mental challenge for these highly intelligent apes. Grant likes to play tug of war with keepers using a stick through the wire mesh! 

Chimp in the rainforest
Phil the Chimp solving a puzzle at Whipsnade Zoo

Chimps are fiercely territorial 

They accept other members of their own community, but not chimps from neighbouring groups. Males in the wild often team up to patrol the borders of their territory, and will beat up or even kill any outsiders they encounter. 

You may spot the male chimps at Whipsnade (sometimes joined by Bonnie) patrolling their moat in the afternoon. It also takes them a while to get used to new zookeepers. They throw their poo at any new  zookeepers at first - and their aim is very good! 

Chimp vocalising at Whipsnade Zoo
Three chimps on their climbing frame at Whipsnade zoo

Breakfast is one of their favourite meals

Chimps get up at sunrise and start the day by feeding intensively. In the wild, they spend 43-55% of the day foraging. 

Whipsnade's chimps are fed at least six times a day, and food is often scattered, hidden or placed in puzzle feeders to encourage natural foraging behaviour. Our chimps get a variety of vegetables, but fruit is a treat, because cultivated fruit in the UK is higher in sugar than wild varieties. 

Chimps eating at Whipsnade Zoo

Chimpanzees like to chill 

Some people are surprised to see our chimps relaxing so much, but it's natural for them to spend 25-39% of the day resting.

Socialising is also important. Grooming helps reinforce social bonds and hierarchies; expect to see high-ranking chimps receiving the most attention. 

At sunset, they turn in for the night. Wild chimps construct nests in trees, weaving the branches together, or sometimes at ground level. We'll leave straw or wood wool out for ours to create cosy nests on their platforms - though Koko prefers to sleep on the ground. 

A chimp's memory is better than a human's 

In short-term recall tests, they have outperformed people - and they have amazing long-term memories too. 

Chimps know all the individuals in their community by sight and by their unique calls. They're also great at mentally mapping their territory - including the precise locations and fruiting periods of thousands of trees. 

Wild chimp on a tree climbing
Sleeping chimpanzee

What do chimps eat?

In the wild chimps mainly eat fruit, but also leaves, buds, blossoms, bark, termites and occasionally other mammals.

We feed our chimps around 6.5kg of fruit and vegetables a day. Each chimp is also given 350g of pelleted food which is made up of protein, fat and fibre, and meat is offered every alternate day. Dates, sunflower seeds, sultanas and nuts are also scattered in the grass to encourage foraging behaviour. Vitamins and minerals are given in drinks, like a herbal tea!

Chimpanzee on a tree branch eating fruit in the wild

How long do chimps live?

In the wild chimpanzees generally live for 40-45 years, but they can make it as old as 60. Some chimps in the zoos can even make it into their 70s, but this is rare. Our oldest chimp Koko is almost 50!

Chimp size

Males are approximately 1.7m high and females 1.3m. Both weigh 45-80kg.

Chimp threats

Chimpanzees are Endangered due to poaching, habitat loss and disease. With palm-oil production driving deforestation in their native West and central Africa, ZSL is working with oil producers to instil more wildlife-friendly practices, as well as strengthening wildlife monitoring and protection on the ground in key chimp habitat in Cameroon at the Dja conservation complex.

Chimp veterinary care

Our zookeepers and vets work with our chimps to carry out health checks and provide medicine. Our chimps are taught to voluntarily present their hands or shoulders through the bars for injection making treatment much stress free for the chimps.

More facts about our animals

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    Elephas maximus

    Asian elephants

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    Panthera leo

    African lion

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  • Two ring-tailed lemurs at Whipsnade Zoo
    Lemur catta

    Ring-tailed lemur

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  • Aardvark in Africa
    Orycteropus afer


    Aardvarks are nocturnal and solitary animals, and their burrows provide vital homes for many endangered species.

  • Reticulated giraffe Khari at Whipsnade Zoo
    Giraffa reticulata

    Reticulated giraffe

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    Equus grevyi

    Grevy's zebra

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    Acinonyx jubatus


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