Surprisingly Like Us
Chimps share more than 98% of their DNA with humans, and along with the bonobos, are man’s closest relatives. We share much in common, including many complex emotions, facial expressions, higher intelligence, the ability to make and use tools, and close family ties. Though chimpanzees are unable to speak, they have some ability to understand and use language that has been demonstrated by research using sign-language and computers.
Chimpanzees and humans share many similar facial expressions. When they combine these expressions with body language and vocalizations, chimps have little difficulty expressing joy, anger, fear, surprise and many other emotions. Watch the expressions on these chimpanzees as they play – and listen for the sound of their laughter. This video shows Foxie and Jamie, two chimps at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest:
Chimps are very intelligent and have many abilities that, in the past, scientists had assumed to be uniquely human. They are talented at social learning and analysis, and recently, we have seen them outperform humans in some tests of short-term memory. Overall, however, humans have bigger brains and intelligence. This may be related to the fact that, unlike human brains, chimpanzee brains fail to undergo a rapid explosion in connections among brain cells during the first two years of life.
Chimpanzee intelligence and “behavioral flexibility” helps them survive, even when faced with big survival challenges.For example, wild chimpanzees whose forests have been cut for farmland create “work-arounds” in order to survive. They learn, for example, how to conduct night-time raids on farmers’ crops, find new food sources and ways of using tools to access them, and deploy the larger and more aggressive males to better protect the community from people. A few chimpanzees have even successfully deactivated hunters’ wire snares.
Chimpanzees make and use tools. Dr. Jane Goodall was the first to observe this when a chimpanzee stripped a twig and used it to fish termites from a mound and eat them. Other types of tool use include using leaves as sponges to obtain water, using sticks to gather and feed on insects such as ants, and using stones to pound and open nutshells.
Chimp Families & Emotion
Chimpanzees form strong family ties, and like people, have a long period of early development. An infant will stay with its mother until it is six to eight years old, longer than almost any other animal. The juvenile chimps spend these years learning survival and social skills.
Humans and chimps also share many emotions in common. Like humans, chimps feel rage, joy, love, jealousy, sadness, fear, and a full spectrum of other feelings. Chimps also experience grief. This moving photograph by photographer Monica Szczupider nicely illustrates chimp reaction to the death of one of their own. In it, Dorothy, a female chimp in her late 40’s, died of heart failure at a chimpanzee sanctuary in Africa.
“The management at Sanaga-Yong opted to let Dorothy’s chimpanzee family witness her burial, so that perhaps they would understand, in their own capacity, that Dorothy would not return. Some chimps displayed aggression while others barked in frustration. But perhaps the most stunning reaction was a recurring, almost tangible silence. If one knows chimpanzees, then one knows that [they] are not [usually] silent creatures.”
-- Monica Szczupider, photographer.