Are Chimpanzees Dangerous?

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: April 30, 2022
Image Credit Thorsten Spoerlein/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

Chimpanzees are one of the “great apes” and are in the same family as gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and humans! The famous conservationist Jane Goodall studied chimpanzees for decades, living alongside them in Tanzania. They are considered the most intelligent animals alive and can solve problems, use tools, and have a complex communication system. Photos of baby chimpanzees can be really cute. But what about stories of chimpanzees going on wild rampages? Do chimpanzees hunt and kill monkeys? Do they kill other chimps? Are chimpanzees dangerous to people? Have they ever attacked a human? Let’s find out about these human-like animals.

What are chimpanzees?

Animals that Sweat – chimpanzees
Chimpanzees belong to the “great ape” family which includes gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and humans.

Crystal Alba/Shutterstock.com

Chimpanzees are apes with human-like features. They have two arms, two legs, no tail, ears on the side of their heads, and are similar in size, you can see the resemblance. On the other hand, their bodies are covered in dark brown to black fur, they get around on all fours, using their feet and knuckles, but they don’t use social media (not yet, at least). Chimpanzees have a complex communication system and a social structure of hierarchy, with most chimps living in groups where they play together, hunt together and take care of each other. You may think chimpanzees are smaller than they actually are. An adult male can be the same size as an adult human. Males can be 5 feet 6 inches tall and weigh 150lbs., while females are a bit smaller.

Are chimpanzees dangerous?

Aggressive Animal: Chimpanzee
Chimpanzees can be dangerous if they feel threatened.

Afandi Teguh Afriyanto/Shutterstock.com

Yes, chimpanzees can be dangerous. Chimpanzees will hunt in groups in the wild to kill and eat monkeys. This may sound dangerous, but they are wild animals. Many other animals hunt in groups to kill prey, especially carnivores that rely on meat to live. Lions, wolves, and hyenas all hunt in packs and kill and eat their prey. Chimpanzees can also be dangerous to humans, especially if they feel threatened or are protecting their young.

Do chimpanzees attack people?

Chimpanzees can attack people, but they typically will avoid humans. Wild chimpanzees and chimpanzees raised as pets have been documented attacking humans. There are more instances of pet chimpanzees attacking than wild ones, but there are cases of both.

  • Chimpanzees in the wild are forced to move due to habitat loss, and they are confronted with more human interactions, increasing the chances of altercations. Most of these recorded accidents were not a group of chimpanzees coordinating an attack on humans but single chimpanzees, maybe ones desperate for food, that have killed humans.
  • Chimps that are pets have also attacked humans. A highly publicized case of a male chimpanzee named Travis who was raised by Sandra Herold brought attention to the dangers of owning wild animals as pets. She had raised him since he was three days old and had lived a peaceful life with its owner and her family for years. He even did some animal acting in commercials for Pepsi and made appearances on TV shows. Unfortunately on February 16, 2009, the chimpanzee attacked a woman that was visiting Sandra. Charla Nash was not a stranger to Travis the Chimp, she had visited many times so the attack was surprising and still not understood. Charla suffered severe injuries to her face, neck, and hands and ended up going blind. She lived but was severely disfigured and had years of surgeries. She is one of the four people in the world to ever receive a face transplant. A tragic accident!

Have chimpanzees ever killed anyone?

Wild chimpanzees have killed people in rural areas where humans and chimpanzees coexist. There are 20 documented cases of human death in the Western region of Uganda in the past 20+ years. Other cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been reported as well.

Do chimpanzees attack other chimpanzees?

Chimpanzees have attacked other chimpanzees.

iStock.com/JeannetteKatzir

Yes. Scientists are studying why chimpanzees would attack and kill their own. There have been cases where groups have tried to defend their own territory from other groups of chimps. One instance caught on video showed what happened after a group of younger male chimps killed their former leader. In Senegal, a group of researchers had been studying chimpanzees and found that the leader of the group had been overthrown and was living on his own for years, but when he attempted to rejoin the group in 2013, he was attacked and killed.

Do chimpanzees attack other animals?

Chimpanzees attack and kill smaller monkeys for food, but an incident at the Loango National Park in Gabon was shocking. In July of 2021, researchers witnessed the first instance of chimpanzees attacking gorillas. They typically live in harmony in the same habitat, respecting each other’s space. There were two separate incidents where a group of chimpanzees attacked a smaller group of five gorillas. Each fight lasted around an hour and in the end, two infant gorillas were killed. Researchers wondered if competition for food in that area had caused the attacks.

Do chimpanzees carry rabies?

Chimpanzee Lifespan - Chimpanzee baby on mother's back
Chimpanzees are not common carriers of rabies.

iStock.com/JeannetteKatzir

Chimpanzees are not common carriers of rabies. As mammals, they could potentially be carriers of rabies but raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks are the most common wild animals of rabies and dogs are the most common domestic carriers.

Do chimpanzees have other diseases?

Yes, chimpanzees carry some of the same diseases that are common in humans. A recent study found a new disease in chimpanzees in Sierra Leone that is almost always fatal. This is concerning because scientist Tony Goldberg reported, “There are very few pathogens that infect chimpanzees without infecting humans and very few pathogens that infect humans without infecting chimpanzees.” This research just came out in February of 2021, so there is much more work needed to be done to prevent the spread of this and other diseases.

Did Jane Goodall say that Chimpanzees are dangerous?

Jane Goodall has witnessed the wild nature of chimpanzees and was asked to give her opinion after Travis the chimp attacked Charla Nash. According to the L.A. Times, Goodall said this incident “should serve as a potent reminder that chimps – no matter how human they may seem – are not cut out to be pets.” She reminded people that as chimpanzees reach the age of 6-8 years, they can get very strong and that “chimpanzees evolved in the tropical forests of Africa, and that’s where they’re suited to live, roaming in groups of their own kind.” Chimpanzees can be dangerous to humans and humans can be dangerous to chimpanzees, so we need to continue to find better ways to coexist.

Share this post on:
About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness and suggesting actions we can all do to help wildlife. As a former elementary school teacher I have a love for learning and teaching. My goal is to get kids fired-up about animals. Learning about the animals we share this earth with makes life better. When I am not writing I am living the good life with my husband and six kids (we are down to two that are still at home...and our giant labradoodle, Tango!).

More from A-Z Animals