Chimp Gorilla Orangutan Bonobo

Great Apes!

Click on a photo to learn more about that amazing ape!



Pan troglodytes

Image courtesy of The Kendall Project



Gorilla gorilla
(Includes the subspecies Western Lowland Gorilla and Cross River Gorilla)

Gorilla birengei
(Includes the subspecies Eastern Lowland Gorilla and Mountain Gorilla)

Image courtesy of The North Carolina Zoo



Pongo pygmaeus, Pongo abelii

Image courtesy of Katie Kimble



Pan paniscus

Image courtesy of Valerie Abbott


The chimpanzee is most commonly found in the rainforests of equatorial Africa, but can also be found in savanna habitat.

Gorillas are found in tropical rainforest habitat in Africa, ranging from the lowland habitat to high up in the mountains.

Orangutans live in Indonesia, primarily in the rainforests of Borneo (P. pygmaeus) and Sumatra (P. abelii). They are the most arboreal of all the great apes, spending almost all of their time in the trees.

Bonobos live in the rainforests of the African country the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that their present range is no larger than 350,000 kilometers.

Did you know...

Chimpanzees are not able to mimic human speech, but they can learn human language! A number of young chimpanzees have successfully been taught American Sign Language. Washoe the chimp learned about 350 signs!

Did you know...

Similar to human fingerprints, no two gorillas share the same nose print. Researchers use these unique nose prints to identify individual gorillas in the wild!

Did you know...

While the other great apes are black, orangutans are a beautiful orange-red color. This actually helps camouflage them in the lush green rainforests. The vegetation actually absorbs red and orange light, making the orangutan very difficult to see.

Did you know...

Unlike their close relatives, bonobos are a female dominated society. Females form very strong bonds with other females, mainly via sexual activity. These tightly bonded females will, as a group, dominate males within the troop. Although there is an alpha male, he is usually outranked by a female.


A chimpanzee's diet consists mainly of vegetation such as plant leaves, nuts, and fruit. However, a small percentage of a chimpanzee's diet consists of insects and meat. Chimps spend a large amount of their time foraging for food. Occasionally, a group of chimpanzees will band together and cooperatively hunt small prey, such as colobus monkey. Chimpanzees have frequently been observed making and using tools to assist them in finding food. A chimp will strip a branch of it's leaves and dip it into a termite mound, pulling out several termites that it can eat off the branch.

Tool Use

Like other great apes, gorillas are omnivorous, but are primarily plant eaters. They will eat a variety of plant material, including fruit, leaves, and seeds. They will also consume small amounts of insects and other small invertebrates.

In the wild, their diet primarily consists of fruits and leaves, with small amounts of tree bark and small animals making up the remainder of their diet. Researchers observing wild orangutans have recorded 400 different kinds of diet eaten!

Bonobos mainly eat plant material, especially fruit and plant leaves. They will eat small amounts of meat in the form of small mammals, insects, and invertebrates.

Physical Characteristics

Adult chimpanzees weigh in between 100 and 150 lbs and are 5 to 6 times stronger than a human. They walk quadripedally, curling their fingers underneath them in a manner termed "knuckle walking." Chimpanzees can live into their mid 30's in the wild but can live much longer in human care; the oldest living chimpanzee in an AZA accredited zoo is estimated to be over 70 years old! Chimpanzees share 98.6% of their DNA with humans.

Silverback Male Gorilla

Gorillas are the largest of the great apes. Males are significantly larger than females, weighing up to 450 lbs. Females generally grow to about half that size, at their largest weighing about 220 lbs. Gorillas a dark brown to black in color, but adult males will grow shiny silver hair on their lower backs, thus the name "Silverback." They are stocky in build, and are quadripedal walkers, using the tops of their hands to "knuckle walk." They share 95% of their DNA with humans.

Orangutans share 96 % of their DNA with humans and are the largest tree dwelling animal in the world. They have long orange-red hair and long arms and males can stand up to 4.5 feet tall, females up to 4. As adults, males can weigh between 130-200 lbs, while adult females weigh between 90-100 lbs.


Bonobos look very similar to their common chimpanzee relatives. They are slightly smaller, however, and can grow to about 130 lbs. Bonobos, in general, are more slender and have smaller heads in comparison to body size than the common chimpanzee, and their features are more delicate, in general. In addition, infant bonobos are born with black faces and pink lips, while chimpanzee infants are born with very light faces.


A troop of chimpanzees is generally composed of about 150 individuals, and is dominated by a single, or alpha, male. This alpha male and other males within the troop define the territory of that particular troop, which they will defend fiercely against foreign males. Chimps within a troop generally travel in small groups, namely females and their offspring, all male groups, and occasionally the single individual. These groups will come together and split apart in what is known as a fission-fusion type of society. Females are the only individuals that will leave their troops territory, namely to mate. Offspring are dependant upon their mothers for several years and it is not uncommon for female offspring to stay with their mothers throughout their lives.

Male Chimpanzee Displaying

Male chimps can often be observed performing boisterous displays which include a variety of behaviors such as clapping, branch shaking, and throwing objects, among others. A chimp does not have to be the biggest in the troop to attain the status of alpha; he just has to have the most impressive displays. Chimpanzees generally walk on all fours in a manner called knuckle walking, but they can also be observed walking bipedally for short periods of time. Chimps also spend a considerable amount of time moving through the trees, swinging from branch to branch in a manner called brachiation. Their upper bodies are specially designed for arboreal life; large, strong hands and dense muscle can support their body weight as they swing through the trees.

Gorillas are ground dwelling apes. They live in large family groups generally consisting of an adult "silverback" male, a harem of females, and their offspring. This silverback male is the only breeding male in the group. Both young male and female gorillas will leave their natal groups. Females will join the harems of another male, while males will go on to form their own harems of females, or to live in small "bachelor" groups, consisting of several males.

Males have a threat display called chest-beating, which consists of drumming their open hands on their chests. This is generally directed at individuals of lower rank. However, they are generally non-aggressive, non-territorial apes.

Orangutans are generally solitary, but mothers and offspring will remain together for 5-7 years after birth. Otherwise, adult orangutans generally only come together to breed and to share large food sources. They are the most arboreal of all the great apes, spending most of their time in the trees.

One of the most remarkable things about bonobos is their social behavior. While their common chimpanzee relatives can be extremely aggressive to one another, bonobos are relatively peaceful. Both male and female bonobos tend to solve conflicts with sex, and are commonly observed engaging in various types of sexual activity. This sexual contact is often observed between members of the same sex, and appears to facilitate social bonding.


Due to deforestation, the bushmeat trade, and the pet trade, chimpanzees are classified as endangered in the wild. Their numbers have dwindled significantly over the years (from about one million to just a couple hundred thousand), and it is believed that they could become extinct in the wild within several decades if their numbers continue to decrease at the current rate. Unfortunately, it is a common misconception that chimpanzees are not endangered due to the fact that they are frequently seen in television, print ads, and other media (Ross et al. 2008).

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (, Western Gorilla subspecies are currently classified as critically endangered, and Eastern Gorilla subspecies are classified as endangered, with both populations in decline. Hunting for bushmeat and zoonotic diseases are the major contributing factors in this decline. Segmentation of habitat due to logging has increased human access to these great apes, driving up the bushmeat trade and increasing exposure to disease.

These long lived animals (around 35 years in the wild and up to 60 in captivity) are currently facing a number of threats in the wild, the most widespread being habitat destruction. Estimates are that one of the two species may be extinct in the wild in the next 10 years! Currently Sumatrans are critically endangered while Borneans are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened animals. (

Bonobos are currently listed as Endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals ( Their populations continue to decline due to increased pressure from humans, mainly in the forms of habitat destruction and the bushmeat trade. Exact population size of bonobos is unknown, but there are an estimated 30,000-50,000 living in the wild.