- Chimpanzees are one of humankind’s closest relatives, sharing 98% of our DNA.
- The average chimp lives to be around 15-30 years old in the wild, or 30-40 years in captivity.
- The primary reasons for lower life expectancy in the wild are caused by habitat loss, poaching, illness, and birthing difficulties.
Chimpanzees are one of humankind’s closest relatives, sharing 98% of our DNA. It’s thought that we shared a common ancestor about 7 million years ago. Chimp and human development is therefore quite similar, though sadly chimpanzee lifespans are shorter than humans.
The average chimp lives to be around 15-30 years old in the wild, or 30-40 years in captivity. Babies stick close to their mothers for the first 3-4 years of age, then gradually venture further until they leave their mothers at age 10. Breeding begins when a chimp is 13-15 years of age.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the lifespan of chimpanzees and also other apes, including how long they live and common causes of death.
How Long do Chimpanzees Live?
Most Chimpanzees live to between 30-40 years old. Their individual lifespans vary considerably, and infant mortality rates are unfortunately high for chimpanzees. On the other hand, some chimps live to over 70 years old!
The oldest chimpanzee ever recorded was named Little Mama. Although her exact age was unknown, she lived to be between 78-84 years old.
Chimpanzees face a variety of threats in the wild and in captivity. Stillbirth is unfortunately common in the species, as are young deaths. For this reason, many researchers choose not to account for infant or juvenile deaths when determining lifespan.
Other threats chimps face are poaching, habitat loss, and disease.
Chimpanzee Lifespan: Captivity vs. In the Wild
Chimpanzees tend to live longer in captivity than in the wild. We might expect a chimp to live 30-40 years in captivity, with the oldest captive chimp living into her late seventies or early eighties. Studies have shown that females in captivity live about 8 years longer than males, with mean age of about 40.
Wild chimpanzees live around 15-30 years—the average varies depending on if you exclude chimps who die before adulthood.
The oldest wild chimpanzee lived to 63 years old.
This disparity exists due to the added threats chimpanzees face in the wild. These include deforestation, poaching, war, disease, and lack of veterinary care.
Chimps breed throughout the year, and pregnancies last 202-261 days. On average, a mother chimp will birth a baby once every 5-6 years. Occasionally, a twin pregnancy occurs.
Baby chimps are vulnerable, and many of them don’t make it to adulthood. They are born with no ability to fend for themselves, and are carried on their mother’s belly for the first six months of life.
Chimpanzees have light tan faces that will darken as they age. They aren’t born with a full coat, but they do have a cute white tuft of fur on their rear that will disappear as they get older.
Once chimpanzee babies reach six months of age, they begin to ride on their mother’s backs. Until weaning at 3.5-4.5 years of age, they will stay close to their mothers, wandering very little from her side.
After weaning, chimps begin to sleep and play on their own. However, they are still dependent on their mothers—sometimes until they’re around 10 years old.
A study of 36 wild female chimpanzees in the Journal of Human Evolution found they reached sexual maturity at 11.5 years of age on average, with a range of 8.9 years to 13.9. A female chimp’s first pregnancy typically occurs at around 13-14 years old. She will likely continue having babies until she dies.
What are the Most Common Causes of Chimpanzee Death?
1. Habitat Loss
Deforestation leads to habitat loss for chimps, who then deal with scarce resources. Chimpanzees are also impacted by human wars, which often destroy and disturb their homelands.
Chimpanzees are hunted for their meat, and young chimps are taken from their habitats to be sold in the exotic pet industry. Their mothers and other adults are killed when they try to protect the youth, and the young chimp is sold to someone much less equipped to raise them.
Wild animals aren’t pets, but unfortunately some people—including some with good intentions—don’t see it that way. They may not understand the harsh realities behind how this animal was brought into their life, or that they’re funding more harm when they buy a pet Chimpanzee.
Baby chimps are super adorable, but they don’t stay little, and the average person simply doesn’t know how to care for them properly. While they can be fun a babies, chimps grow to be very strong adolescents who can cause a great deal of damage to a home. Even chimps raised by hand, can become very dangerous to handle as they get older and have been known to kill or badly injure their owners. They’re better off being raised in a community of other Chimpanzees.
Illnesses such as Ebola fever spread amongst Chimpanzees in the wild, causing many deaths. There is a chimpanzee vaccine for Ebola, however wild chimps don’t have access to veterinary care—making them far more likely to die of the disease than captive individuals.
Another disease Chimpanzees face is cardiomyopathy. Cardiomyopathy restricts blood flow. It can also lead to heart failure, and is a common cause of death in captive chimpanzees.
Other common illnesses that kill chimps include acute myocardial necrosis (blocked blood flow to the heart), amyloidosis (a build-up of amyloid proteins in the organs), and pneumonia.
Unfortunately, many chimps die before they’re even born. This is called a stillbirth. Even in accredited zoos, 12% of chimpanzees are stillborn. This is also very common in the wild, and its something that mother chimpanzees seem to struggle with greatly. Edinburgh Zoo actually had to place warning signs outside of an enclosure when a mother chimp refused to give up her dead baby, carrying it around with her instead.
How does the Chimpanzee Lifespan Compare to Other Primates?
Let’s begin with the primate most of us think of first—humans!
Of course, humans have a much higher life expectancy than chimps. The average person will live to be around 73 years old. The oldest person to ever live, Jeanne Calment, was 122 years old when she passed away.
Humans and chimps share 98% of our genetic make-up, so this is actually a very big difference in lifespan considering!
Another close relation to chimps is the bonobo. Originally mistaken for the same species, they are now classified as two different animals. Chimps have sturdier bodies and their offspring have light-colored faces that darken with age. Bonobos live around 40 years in captivity, and the lifespan of wild bonobos is unknown.
Looking at gorillas, the oldest gorilla ever lived to be 64 years old. Overall, the oldest chimpanzee on record – Little Mama – likely was the second oldest primate after humans!
- Are Chimpanzees Dangerous? Click this link to find out why chimps are better left to themselves rather than made into pets.
- 10 Incredible Chimpanzee Facts Chimps are fascinating animals that share a great deal in common with us. Look here to find out more about these interesting animals.
- Monkey vs Chimpanzee: What are the Differences? Do you know the difference between monkeys and chimps? Learn more about both of them here.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/herbertlewald
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