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World Chimpanzee Day: Celebrating our Closest Cousins in the Animal Kingdom

Categories: Animals, Conservation

Saturday, July 14th marks the inaugural World Chimpanzee Day. This day is a celebration of chimpanzees, humans’ closest cousin in the animal kingdom, but it’s also a reminder about the critical need for global participation in their care, protection and conservation.

Sac Zoo’s 55-year-old chimpanzee, Joe

Chimpanzees are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), their biggest threats being habitat loss due to deforestation, illegal pet and bush meat trade and disease. According to worldchimpanzeeday.org, just 100 years ago there were an estimated 1-2 million chimpanzees across 25 countries in Africa. Today, there are as few as 350,000 wild chimpanzees across the entire continent of Africa.

Chimpanzees originate from the central belt of Africa where they live in forests, dry woodland savannas and tropical rain forests. In the wild, they have been known to reach 40 years of age, and can live up to 60 years in human care. Chimpanzees’ primary predators in the wild include leopards, lions and most significantly, humans. The Sacramento Zoo’s oldest resident chimpanzee, Joe, just turned 55 on June 10, and is the second oldest chimpanzee in the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan® (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Fun fact: a group of chimpanzees is called a troop or community. At the Sacramento Zoo, we are home to a troop of five individuals ranging in age from 17 to 55 years old. The troop is very socially active and gets a wealth of voluntary training and enrichment. Enrichments, like extra treats and food, are essential to their socialization and stimulation. Target training at the chimpanzee window is not only fun for guests to observe but essential for ensuring the chimpanzee’s overall health.

The primary primate keeper, Janine, said “the complexities of their ever-changing social system affect how we care for them daily. Which individuals are glued to the hip, who won’t pass by the other in a doorway, who won’t eat when an individual is nearby, and who takes advantage of others when certain group members are not around, and how it all changes when a female is cycling are just some of the things keepers must keep up on.  I could watch them all day, everyday. It’s fascinating observing chimps being chimps.”

What can you do to help these amazing animals? We all have the power to be good stewards of our environment, aid in species conservation and get involved. No effort made is too small. Small changes in your daily life can make a significant impact, such as educating others about the chimpanzees’ plight and avoiding products with unsustainable palm oil. The biggest threat to chimpanzees is deforestation due to agriculture, including palm oil farming. Palm oil is used in so many foods we eat and products we use every day, like cookies, crackers, toothpaste and even your lotion. When making purchases at the grocery store, consider using the Cheyenne Mountain’s Zoo’s Palm Oil Shopping Guide App to help you choose products that are palm oil free or use sustainable palm oil.

As participants in the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan® of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Sacramento Zoo not only provides homes for chimpanzees but also works closely with other zoos across the country in carefully managed population programs to ensure the welfare of all chimpanzees in professional care.