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Crazy for Chimps!

Did you know that........

Apes or monkeys? What's the difference?

The apes, which include Gorillas, Orangutans, Gibbons, and, of course, Chimpanzees, ARE different from monkeys in several ways. The first and most obvious indicator is the tail; Apes don't have one! There are a few Macaques(monkeys) that have no tails, but for the most part, monkeys do come with this appendage. Apes also have larger skulls than monkeys to accomodate their larger brains, naturally making them more intelligent than their monkey cousins. Apes use tools such as sticks and stones for food gathering and defense. Monkeys are the tree swingers while apes, lacking the prehensile tails, spend more time on the ground or just nesting in the trees.

Apes and Monkeys as Pets?

Of course we all think that primates are adorable, wonderful creatures. And adorable, wonderful creatures make great pets, right? Not always! In the case of primates, there are hundreds of reasons not to have them as pets. From an environmental viewpoint, the majority of species of primates are either endangered or threatened in the wild. Buying them increases the poachers' market, leading to increased poaching. These animals are incredibly strong, even the small ones, and very destructive. Because they are very intelligent, they need and demand an incredible amount of attention, about the same supervision as a human toddler. They require specialized diets which are often expensive and difficult to obtain. After the baby cuteness and docile temperment of infancy, they become extremely aggressive adults. They will not consistently be obedient to rules, especially when they are unattended. The average lifespan of a primate is 35 years; chimpanzees can live to be 60. They require special veterinary care that may be difficult to find and expensive. These are just a few reasons that primates are not good pets. If you are dead-set on owning one, please research every aspect of their care and consider carefully the following questions:

Is it legal to own a primate where I live?

Can I provide a secure and comfortable enclosure for the animal?

Can I afford the preventative medical care for the animal?

Can I afford the variety and quantity of food this animal needs?

Do I have time to spend with the animal for training and recreation?

How will I handle aggressive behavior, which is a natural behavior in a primate, and destructive behavior?

Am I willing to commit up to 60 years to this animal and do I have a person who will do so in the event of my unforeseen demise?

Why do I want a primate?


Why I am Crazy For Chimps!

I fell in love with chimpanzees while on a zoo conference trip with my fellow docents and zoo staff. I had never really been exposed to these wonderful apes before and was amazed by how "human" their behavior seemed. One of the most amazing things that I witnessed was chimpanzee mothers and other adults playing with the baby chimps! It was adorable to watch the mother chimp holding her infant's hands and helping him stand up just as I had done with my own sons. Meanwhile, an uncle stood by and expressed his jubilation at the baby's efforts and occasionally reached out to tickle his nephew's tummy! It was a priceless experience and the beginning of my love affair with these unbelievable animals.

Chimps Just Wanna Have Fun!

All of the Great Apes are very intelligent but I believe the chimps to be the most capable thinkers. I learned a great deal about animal enrichment at the conference. This term refers to special efforts taken to give the animals mental and physical stimulation similar to what they would receive in the wild. Much of this activity is done with primates, especially because of their need for mental stimulation. Animal enrichment programs help prevent boredom and manage stress and also become a great source for behavioral research. Some examples of this enrichment are: ketchup placed in a "termite mound" to be fished out with sticks, fruit frozen into ice blocks, and socks filled with spices. A variety of choices is provided each day and each chimp's preferences are recorded and put into a profile. Then, if for any reason a chimp must be isolated, it can be comforted with its favorite things.

Chimps Can Tell Us How It Is!

Another program is symbolic enrichment.The person holds up two cards with pictures of different treats and the chimp chooses which one he or she wants by either eyeing it or, in the case of the younger ones, pointing to it! This has amazing implications in the field of language capability. People who are unable to speak or sign often use symbol cards to communicate. Theoretically, it could be possible that chimps could communicate in this way and actually participate in decision-making for designing their exhibits and other situations! I find this incredibly exciting.

Chimpanzoo and the Jane Goodall Institute

There is a program that studies chimpanzees' behavior specifically because it is so similar to our own. It is called ChimpanZoo. ChimpanZoo is a research project dedicated to the study of captive chimpanzees. This is a cooperative effort to create a database of behavioral information to combine with Jane Goodall’s extensive knowledge gained through the study of wild chimpanzees. About 120 chimps from 16 zoos throughout the United States are in this program. The observation and documentation is done by students, keepers, and docents trained by the zoos and the Jane Goodall Institute, which created the program. The results of the study are presented at an annual ChimpanZoo conference and published in educational journals, as well as being provided to educators for teaching young people. Because the week-long conference draws individuals from academic and zoological communities as well as the general public, it is a great opportunity to educate and update the participants while giving them a forum for discussion.

The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation was founded in 1977. Chimpanzees are of special concern to JGI. They are our closest living relatives, with only a 2% difference in genetic makeup. This is why they are so often used for human medical research. Only one in ten wild-caught infant chimps survive to be sold to labs, circuses, or as pets. This number does not include the adult chimps who died trying to rescue the infants from poachers! Chimpanzees’ behavior, intellectual capabilities, emotional needs and expression of those needs, social relationships, and physiological structure are amazingly similar to our own. Tragically, in many establishments, these needs are ignored and chimps are forced to exist in inhumane conditions with no regard for their health or happiness. The Jane Goodall Institute is committed to improving the situation of this endangered species and ensuring both physical and psychological well-being in captivity as well as long-term preservation in the wild.

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