This week’s local news cycle has been dominated by the story of the chimpanzees who briefly strayed outside their pen in Belfast Zoo. This got me thinking, “what do I really know about these guys?” Well, I decided to do some research, and here is what I found.
Chimps are a type of great ape – some of our closest living relatives. They share about 98% of the same DNA as us. It is thought that man and chimp had a common ancestor about 6 million years ago, before diverging into separate species. They are often a little smaller than humans, but the adult is much stronger. It is estimated that the adult chimp is about 6 times stronger than an adult man of similar size.
Chimps generally live in highly organized social groups, like us. It is sometimes scary to watch them and see how similar their interactions are to humans. In the wild they live in sub-Saharan African countries like the Congo and Uganda. They are omnivorous, often preying on smaller monkeys for their dietary requirements. When threatened, they can be aggressive and dangerous, and are therefore best avoided and not agitated. However most of the time they pretty much just get on with their lives when left alone.
Some folk even keep chimps as pets although this is ill-advised. They are wild, undomesticated animals and can behave unpredictably, even after living with their owners for years. There are reports of chimps turning on their owners and mauling them. Chimps have demonstrated some intelligence – using tools, surfing the net and communicating with humans. Indeed there has even been an “Astrochimp” – a chimpanzee in space. This was the first hominid to go to space – before even humans left this planet.
So, to answer my own question – I think chimps are fascinating, but also have a strength that needs to be respected. I would never want to meet a chimp on Market Street knowing what I now know about them! For me, the best place to see a chimp is safely on safari or in its enclosure in the zoo!