Chimpanzee Central

We know so much about chimpanzees today thanks to the hard work of animal researchers like Jane Goodall. But, essentially, chimps remain a mystery. Even Jane, who knows chimpanzees better than anyone just about anyone, has said she can only guess at what's going on inside a chimpanzee’s mind. All the same, chimpanzees should be quite familiar to us Homo sapiens: They're complex, social, intelligent, curious, and capable of terrible brutality and astonishing acts that look like altruism.

You can learn much more about these amazing beings here at Chimpanzee Central.

Chimpanzees should be quite familiar to us Homo sapiens: They're complex, social, intelligent, curious, and capable of terrible brutality and astonishing acts that look like altruism.

We know so much about chimpanzees today thanks to the hard work of animal researchers like Jane Goodall. But, essentially, chimps remain a mystery. Even Jane, who knows chimpanzees better than just about anyone, has said she can only guess at what's going on inside a chimpanzee’s mind.

You can learn much more about these amazing beings here at Chimpanzee Central.

Learn about one of the most important aspects of a chimpanzees' life -- mother-child bonds.

chimps petsChimpanzee and monkey infants are irresistibly cute, and it might seem that raising one would be just like raising a human child. As infants, chimpanzees are affectionate, needy, and a delight to interact with. But chimpanzees grow up fast, and their unique intelligence makes it difficult to keep them stimulated and satisfied in a human environment. By age five they are stronger than most human adults. They become destructive and resentful of discipline. They can, and will, bite. Chimpanzee owners have lost fingers and suffered severe facial damage.

Reality Bites

Infant chimpanzees normally receive 24-hour attention from their mothers. Chimpanzee mothers will sleep with one hand on their child so contact is constant. No human can approach this level of caretaking. There are other problems: constant messes, demanding feeding schedule and the natural need chimpanzees have for mental stimulation. Bear in mind, captive primates can live 50- 60 years.

Chimpanzee owners often don’t travel because they can’t find suitable caretakers for their pets. Furthermore, chimpanzees are likely to rebel when owners come home late from work or have irregular schedules. Space is another obstacle. Homes are not large enough to keep these active animals happy.

While infant chimps can be diapered, once puberty hits most chimps resist diapers and clothing. Additionally, chimpanzees can make a mess that will daunt even the most practiced housekeeper. Imagine a toddler having the strength to move tables, pull down curtains and climb to anything put out of reach. It is impossible to train chimps to behave totally like humans.

Nonhuman primates are used frequently in medical research because they are susceptible to many of the same diseases as humans such as herpes, viral hepatitis, and measles. These diseases can be transferred easily from them to us and vice versa.

Aggression is a natural aspect of chimpanzee behaviour and it is not uncommon for chimps to bite each other in the wild. However much a misguided chimp owner continues to love his or her "child," the chimpanzee will be too dangerous to keep as part of the family. Many owners, to delay the inevitable day that the chimp will have to be removed from the house, will pull the chimp's teeth, put on shock collars — even remove thumbs in the mistaken notion that this will make it impossible for the chimp to climb the drapes.

Giving Them Up

The day will come when despite all best efforts the chimpanzee must go. The owners often feel betrayed by the animals that they raised and devoted so much attention to. Sadly, they cannot be sent back to Africa. Most zoos will not take ex-pets because human reared chimpanzees do not know chimp etiquette and tend not to fit into established groups. Tragically, many pet chimps end up in medical research laboratories. Because owners are asked not to visit the chimps — so as not to disturb them in their "new-found happiness" — the former chimp owners never realise the horrendous conditions to which they have condemned their friend.


It is illegal to own chimps as pets in the UK.

Want to raise a chimp? Think again.

Chimpanzees are meant to live in the wild, not in our homes.

Those that have been taken from the forest and their mothers belong in a sanctuary or a high quality zoo. Like human children, ape children learn in a social context, by watching and imitating adults. Chimps that grow up apart from a normal group fail to learn the nuances of chimp etiquette, and are likely to behave abnormally. As adults, chimpanzees have at least five times the strength of humans – too much for any pet owner to manage! Zoos usually refuse to accept pets because they tend not to fit into established groups. Historically, many pet chimps ended up in medical research laboratories. Today they are likely to end up in a roadside zoo. 

Addtional Resources

Center for Great Apes (provides permanent sanctuary in a safe and enriching environment for orangutans and chimpanzees in need of long-term life care.)

National Geographic News: The Perils of Keeping Monkeys as Pets
"If you try to keep them as pets you're creating a mentally disturbed animal in 99.9 percent of the cases."

chimps entertainmentBelow is a letter from Jane Goodall to professionals in the entertainment and advertising industry outlining the arguments against the use of great apes in entertainment.

Dear ______________,

I am writing to ask you to consider an aspect of the advertising trade that you may not have considered before — the cost of using chimpanzees in advertising. As a media professional, your work — now or in the future — may be tied to the use of chimpanzees. I want to share some relevant information, which I'm presenting in a Q&A format so that you can easily share this knowledge with your colleagues.

How are chimpanzees trained to perform?

They are separated from their mothers as infants. This is truly tragic, because in the wild, the child stays with his or her family for at least eight years. Furthermore — trainers require obedient subjects. Although it is possible to train animals using only kindness, reward and praise, this requires the kind of time and patience which simply are lacking in the fast moving world of show business. Many trainers will admit that they beat their performers during training. In many cases the abuse is horrendous.

What happens to the performers after they reach puberty?

When they are six to eight years old, they typically become more difficult to handle. To make them manageable, trainers may have the chimps' teeth pulled or may fit them with shock collars under their clothes.

But usually the performers, when they are no longer amenable to discipline, are discarded. And it is becoming harder and harder to place them. Like human children, ape children learn by watching adults and imitating their behavior. They learn in a social context. And individuals who have no chance to grow up in a normal group not only fail to learn the nuances of chimp etiquette, but in addition are likely to show abnormal behaviours. These chimps are not accepted by accredited zoos. They tend not to fit into established groups. And so, unless they can be placed in one of the few sanctuaries for abused, surplus chimps, they will end up in roadside zoos or being quietly euthanized.

Does using chimpanzees in entertainment and advertising help people to appreciate them more?

The use of chimpanzees for advertising is so at odds with the individual's normal life and habits, and creates terribly wrong perceptions of these amazing creatures. Do you realize that the chimpanzee's smile so often seen on TV is actually a grin of fear? These trained performers suffer greatly for our amusement.

Because performing chimpanzees and orangutans are young (the adults are far too large, powerful, and potentially dangerous), people have the impression that these apes are small, cute and cuddly. They can have no concept of the majesty of the fully grown animal. And it is this unrealistic picture that perpetuates the continued buying and selling of young chimpanzees as "pets."

At least entertainment chimpanzees don't represent a drain on wild populations.

Many people don't realise chimpanzees are endangered in the wild, as are all the other great apes — gorillas, orangutans and bonobos. In fact, the number of human beings born every day is greater than the number of other remaining great apes in the wild. And while it is true that circus chimpanzees in North America were bred in captivity, this is not necessarily true in parts of the world where the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species either has not been ratified or is not enforced. And so European circuses or side shows may well travel with chimpanzee or orangutan performers who were born in the wild. Thus the use of apes (and other endangered species) in entertainment does represent a drain on rapidly decreasing wild populations.

Many of these arguments also apply to the use of other exotic animals such as lions, tigers, elephants and bears. Especially considering the new abilities of animatronics and other computer imagery, there is really no justification for forcing these amazing creatures to suffer for our amusement or gain. I hope you'll join the growing number of businesses that refuse to sanction or participate in this gross misuse of creatures who are vulnerable to our exploitation precisely because they are so like us.


Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE

chimps bushmeatRaising awareness is a powerful means of creating change, especially in this day of global communication. If you educate yourself about the bushmeat problem and help spread the word, then you will be making a meaningful contribution to the fight to save chimpanzees and other endangered species. Below are some key facts, plus sources for any point you want to explore further.

  • The commercial bushmeat trade is the large scale killing of wild animals, including endangered species such as chimpanzees, for profit. 
  • It is one of the most serious threats to chimpanzees.
    Read an outline of threats with references and further reading list: Great Ape Survival Project 
  • As logging companies cut out roads in virgin forest, hunters, many armed with guns, are able to drive in.
    Learn more about the commercial hunting of apes in logging concessions.
  • In some areas where great apes live, an influx of labourers means smoked ape meat becomes a commodity like never before.
    You can learn about the role of local traditions and beliefs, which in some cases have protected apes, in the World Atlas of Great Apes and Their Conservation, page 227
  • But it is illegal to kill and consume endangered species including chimpanzees.
    Go straight to the source: appendix I of CITES, the international treaty which outlaws trade in great apes.
  • Bushmeat is a public health problem. Because diseases can travel between humans and chimpanzees, everyone is at risk -- even the consumer.
    A recent Wildlife Conservation Society investigation unearthed simian foamy virus in bushmeat smuggled into New York City.
  • “Addressing the bushmeat crisis requires a diversity of approaches, from conducting anti-poaching operations to educating children about the importance of biodiversity and sustainability.”
    The go-to source for information about bushmeat: The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, of which JGI was a founding member.
  • JGI works to help communities develop sustainable livelihoods that reduce pressure on the forest -- and its inhabitants.
    One method of addressing this challenge is helping communities find alternative protein sources. We also work to educate communities about the importance of biodiversity, including chimpanzees.

Little jayDid You Know?

Hunters will take babies after killing their families and try to sell them on the black market as pets. JGI works with authorities to put the confiscated babies in sanctuaries.

Read about JGI's Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabiltation Center in the Republic of Congo.