How often do you sit and think: “are we as humans unique? Do humans resemble another species?” Probably not very often. We might think we are unique until we meet our “cousin”: the chimpanzee! Humans and chimpanzees share about 99% of their DNA, the closest the two share with any other species. The next time you see a chimpanzee - don’t be shy, say hi!
You have probably seen and heard a lot about chimpanzees today. It’s only natural as today is World Chimpanzee Day. This day celebrates chimpanzees, raises awareness on the challenges they face, and promotes their protection and conservation - thanks to Jane Goodall. July 14, 1960 is when Goodall began studying chimpanzees at Gombe National Park and has since become an inspiration to scientists and researchers focusing on chimpanzees. Over the years, there have been some amazing discoveries and learning about chimpanzees. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting social resemblances between us and chimpanzees.
Empathy and Friendship
Do you have a best friend that you relate to and care for? So do the chimps! Research shows that chimpanzees have the ability to empathize with others emotionally and can even form close bonds and friendships. Anthony Ochieng, a Jackson Wild award winner and founder of TonyWild, narrates a story of the chimpanzees’ human father in Uganda. “Papa,” as they call him, speaks of being bullied by other chimpanzees while one of them becomes very friendly and empathetic. Sophia, the empathetic chimpanzee, has a best friend called Megan - amazing, don't you think?
Imagine a chimpanzee beating a human at a memory test with sequences and numbers. Sounds unreal, right? But it's real! Ayumu, a chimpanzee at Japan’s Primate Research Institute, did it and so can other chimpanzees. These members of the big 5 apes can understand, connect, and memorize pieces of information almost the same way that humans can. Their abilities manifest in their social relations where they cooperate on tasks such as food gathering and coping with various cultures - yes they do have their own cultures!
Chimpanzees are calm, peaceful creatures until they get angry - sound familiar? Similar to humans, due to their cognitive abilities and social communication skills, chimpanzees are able to plan and wage war on other members of the species. Studies have proposed that this is an adaptive strategy, for example, when one group attacks another group to obtain food and other resources. Male chimpanzees especially can get aggressive when triggered by members of rival communities.
These are just a few examples of how alike humans and chimpanzees are. It is also important to note that despite the acute resemblances between human and chimpanzees, we still remain distinct from each other. We can and should love and care for chimpanzees without necessarily humanizing them. One of the ways we can achieve this is through thoroughly educating ourselves about the species.
The best way to learn more about chimpanzees is to go trekking in various parks - there, you will find practical knowledge and rich information that will help you understand our cousins better. One of the things you’d learn is that chimpanzees are endangered due to habitat loss, disease, and hunting. Park rangers and other experts can help you learn what you can do about it as a citizen, conservationist or storyteller.
About the Author: Irene Marra is an Operations Associate at Jackson Wild. She is currently pursuing a BA in International Business and Trade at the African Leadership University in Rwanda, with a passion for entrepreneurship, storytelling, and digital content creation.