10 unusual facts about chimpanzees that you need to know!

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British primatologist Jane Goodall has taken a giant step forward in knowledge of the astonishing behavior of chimpanzees. Over the decades, additional scientific work has completed the portrait of the primate. Genetically very close to humans, the African great ape has truly astonishing physical and cognitive capabilities. Here are 10 unusual facts that will make you take a new look at chimpanzees.

1. The chimpanzee was almost called a troglodyte

In 1812, the French naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire chose the genus Troglodytes to classify the chimpanzee. In the years that followed, we encountered the taxon in the work of several authors discussing the monkey. However, the term Troglodytes was used in 1806 by the ornithologist Louis-Pierre Vieillot to name a genus of passerines. It was only in 1985 that the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature definitively invalidated the name Troglodytes in favor of Pan, by virtue of the principle of anticipation. The term Pan was introduced by the German naturalist Lorenz Oken in 1816, in reference to the Greek god of nature, protector of shepherds and flocks. The Pan genus is divided into 2 distinct species:

The common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes); The Bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee (Pan paniscus). 2. The chimpanzee is man’s cousin

The chimpanzee is said to be the cousin of man because the genomes of the two species are 98.8% identical. In addition to a similar physical appearance, primates have senses similar to ours, such as sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. It is also said that man is descended from the ape but it would be more accurate to say that homo sapiens and the chimpanzee have a common ancestor 7 million years old. Two pairs of chromosomes {2p, 2q} from this ancestor merged in the human lineage into the pair of chromosomes {2}, in fact man has 46 chromosomes. On the other hand, the chimpanzee has retained the 2 pairs of chromosomes {2p, 2q} from the common ancestor and therefore still has the 48 chromosomes that are also found in the gorilla and the orangutan.

3. He is the animal that knows how to use tools best

As anthropologist Jane Goodall demonstrated in the 1960s, the species uses and knows how to make tools. For example, the chimpanzee looks for a long, thin branch, strips it and then introduces it into an anthill or termite mound. A trick that allows him to put insects in his mouth without being stung. The primate also uses a piece of wood to break the tender shell of a fruit and eat its flesh. If the shell is hard (nut), he takes a stone to break it and can travel up to 500 m to find the best possible hammer. The chimpanzee also makes a kind of flip-flop from twigs when he needs to climb thorny trunks and makes cushions from large bark to rest his buttocks on wet ground. In total, the animal would use 65 tools.

4. Chimpanzees traveled into space

The first hominid to launch into space was not a human being, but a chimpanzee. Installed aboard an American space capsule, Ham was the most famous monkey sent into the air. On January 31, 1961, after 16 minutes of flight at an altitude of 250 km, the machine where the primate was located landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean. The chimpanzee’s vital signs, monitored throughout the flight, proved that cognitive functions were not impaired during space travel. Ham is one of many monkeys captured at very young ages in Africa to be sold to the American government and used as guinea pigs for NASA. For the Mercury program, 40 chimpanzees were transported to the Cape Canaveral base (Florida) to undergo intensive training aimed at testing the resistance capabilities of a living being to the extreme living conditions in a spaceship. Ham manages to endure the trials to which others have succumbed. For example, one test consisted of pulling a lever as soon as a blue light came on. If successful, the monkey received a banana and if unsuccessful, he received an electric shock to his feet. Ham was lucky to escape his space trip unscathed when other animals never returned.

5. Chimpanzees have incredible memories

A Japanese study wanted to verify the rapid memorization capacity of chimpanzees. Numbers appeared on a computer screen, almost immediately hidden by white squares. The goal was to remember the location of the numbers and touch the squares in order of magnitude. In this test, the 5-year-old chimpanzees beat adult humans several times. Regarding long-term memory, observations made on females living in Ivory Coast established that they remembered the location of the most prolific fruiting trees during previous fruiting seasons ( up to 3 years ago). Several studies show that chimpanzees can remember past events, solve complex problems based on previous experiences, and even plan future behaviors based on their memories.

6. Chimpanzee beds are cleaner than ours!

Like birds, chimpanzees make nests in trees. Almost every evening, the monkey looks for a suitable location to place its bed: the place must be close to resources (water, food) and protected as much as possible from the risk of predation. Its nest can be located in branches or on the ground, depending on individual preferences. When the site is found, the animal makes comfortable bedding by folding and intertwining branches, leaves and grasses that it has collected in the surrounding area. As stated above, chimpanzees are keen to build new nests almost every evening in order to avoid the introduction of parasites and to maintain good hygiene. According to a study published in The Royal Society, only 3.5% of the bacteria present in chimpanzee nests come from their skin, saliva or feces, compared to 35% in human beds.

7. They are the most social of the great apes

Chimpanzees live in complex community groups, often led by a dominant male, and interact extensively with each other. Interactions take various forms such as communication (vocalizations, gestures), cooperation (hunting) or sharing (food). Counting around ten to around a hundred individuals, chimpanzee communities operate quite flexibly, on the “fission-fusion” model: subgroups are created and change their composition very often. During the day, chimpanzees choose which individuals they will spend time with, according to their center of interest (food, reproduction, hierarchy, play, grooming).

8. Chimpanzees practice self-medication

Chimpanzees are capable of treating themselves using substances gleaned from the forest. For example, they swallow the whole, rough leaves of Aspilia, without chewing them, in order to evacuate parasites from the digestive tract. It has also been established that the absorption of around ten different plants, including the bitter stems of Vernonia, is capable of limiting the proliferation of plasmodium, the parasite causing malaria. The observation of a female suffering from digestive disorders having ingested Albizia residues revealed that, 2 days later, her stools released a high parasitic load. It was also noted that the consumption of certain plants with soil had optimized the effectiveness of a molecule on intestinal disorders in chimpanzees. Not only do primates use plants whose anti-inflammatory or analgesic properties calm pain or discomfort, but they share their knowledge within the community.

9. They are vulnerable to disease and infection

Chimpanzees have weaker immune systems than humans, making them more susceptible to health problems. These monkeys can be affected by various infections, whether cutaneous, viral, bacterial, parasitic, gastrointestinal or respiratory. Some diseases that affect humans can also affect primates, and vice versa. Chimpanzees are susceptible to more serious illnesses such as influenza, hepatitis B and C, simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), similar to human HIV, or the Ebola virus. Monkeys can also succumb to diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and yellow fever. Among chimpanzees, numerous epidemics are linked to increasingly frequent contact with humans and their waste.

10. Chimpanzees are threatened with extinction

Projections indicate that the chimpanzee population will have been halved between 1970 and 2030. There are now only between 170,000 and 300,000 individuals left in the wild. An alarming situation which justifies their classification in the “endangered” category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The disappearance of this great ape is mainly due to deforestation, agricultural expansion, logging, urbanization and other human activities. The loss of habitat suffered by the animal reduces the areas where it can live and find food. At the same time, the chimpanzee is the victim of poaching and illegal trafficking for its meat or its resale as pets or various commercial uses. Finally, human-transmitted diseases also pose a serious threat to the survival of the species.

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