Meet Chimpanzees in the Wild
AS WE follow the narrow trail into the tropical forest of equatorial Africa, our eyes slowly get used to the flickering light coming through the dense canopy of leaves and branches. The constant, dull sound of buzzing crickets and the sight of massive vine-covered trees—some towering over 180 feet [55 m] high—fill us with awe and anticipation. We get the feeling that this dim environment calls for alert senses and a quiet step. Suddenly, there is a loud hoo sound, together with an audible rapid intake of breath. These sounds rise in volume and pitch until they reach a deafening crescendo before coming to an almost abrupt end. Our tiring walk has led us to the exciting moment we were hoping for—we have located a group, or community, of chimpanzees.
Frenzies of excitement like this—which include pant hooting, screaming and, at times, drumming on tree trunks—are ways that chimpanzees communicate, or call for contact. A rich supply of delicious ripe figs seems to have caused this urgent need to maintain contact with the rest of the community. Looking up into the large, spreading crown of a tall fig tree, we can see a good number of these animals, possibly 20 or 30, peacefully feeding on the figs. Their black hair gleams beautifully as it catches the sunlight. One of the chimps starts to throw twigs at us, and soon we are showered with twigs—a clear signal that this food supply is not to be shared.
The best time to locate chimps is when fruit is plentiful. At other times, it is more difficult, since they may be spread out in the low vegetation in subgroups of only a few individuals. Chimpanzees in the wild usually enjoy eating off and on most of the day as they move about in large areas of several square miles. Besides fruit, their diet includes leaves, seeds, and stems. They also eat ants, birds’ eggs, and termites. Occasionally they may hunt and kill small animals, including monkeys.
Since it is close to midday, the chimpanzees feel the effects of the rising temperature. One of them starts to climb down from the tree, and before long the others follow suit. Then, one by one, they move into the dense thicket. A mischievous juvenile male takes a detour by swinging himself from branch to branch to get a closer look at us. Watching this young creature’s playfulness and curiosity brings a big smile to our faces.
“Look behind you,” says one of our group as we follow the trail back. Turning around, we can see a chimp peeping cautiously from behind a tree trunk. He stands on two legs and is about four feet [1 m] tall. When we look at him, his head goes back behind the tree, only to peer out again after a few moments. What charming curiosity! Yes, chimps can stand on two legs and can even walk that way for short distances. However, they normally use all four limbs to support their weight. The spine of a chimp does not have the curve at the lower back that helps make upright posture possible in humans. Also, the relatively weak rump muscles, together with arms that are considerably longer and stronger than the legs, make walking on all fours or climbing and swinging in trees more in harmony with how the chimpanzee is built.
When the chimps have to reach out for fruit growing on thin branches that would not support their weight, their long arms are especially useful. Their hands and feet are perfectly shaped for powerfully grasping and holding on to branches. The big toes point sideways and work like thumbs to help the animal climb trees or even grasp and carry objects almost as easily with the feet as with the hands. This ability is helpful when it is time for making a nest in the evening. After a few minutes of bending and turning over leaves and branches, the chimp has a soft, comfortable place for the night.
Watching and studying chimpanzees in the wild, with their many fascinating characteristics and obvious similarities with humans in anatomy and behavior, is certainly intriguing. Some people, however, are interested in the chimpanzee solely for experimental reasons in support of a suggested evolutionary relationship with man. Hence, questions like these may arise: What really makes humans and chimpanzees so different? In what way is man, in contrast with animals, made “in God’s image”?—Genesis 1:27.
An Unforgettable Experience
In the wild, chimpanzees are elusive, and normally they quietly disappear as soon as they spot a human intruder. However, for their protection and preservation, some communities of chimps have been habituated so that they would become used to the presence of humans.
Our brief visit to the forest home of the chimpanzee has been an unforgettable experience. It has helped us to get at least some insight into what chimpanzees are really like—so different from the ones in zoos or laboratories. They are truly fascinating animals and are included among the ‘moving animals and wild beasts of the earth’ that God saw were good—perfectly designed for the environment they were meant to live in.—Genesis 1:24, 25.
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CHIMPS AND MAN
In her book In the Shadow of Man, zoologist Dr. Jane Goodall writes that her observations in the 1960’s of “toolmaking” chimpanzees “convinced a number of scientists that it was necessary to redefine man in a more complex manner than before.” Chimpanzees’ using leaves as a sponge, using rocks or branches to crack nuts, and stripping leaves off twigs before sticking them into a dirt mound to fish around for termites were truly astonishing discoveries. However, in recent times it has become common knowledge that a number of animals demonstrate amazing toolmaking skills. Dr. T. X. Barber, author of the book The Human Nature of Birds—A Scientific Discovery With Startling Implications, states: “All thoroughly studied animals, including not only apes and dolphins but also ants and bees, have demonstrated totally unexpected basic awareness and practical intelligence.”
This does not in any way alter the fact that man is unique. As Professor David Premack writes, “the grammar or syntax of human language is certainly unique.” Yes, the complexities of human language together with the richness of human culture, where language and speech play a crucial part, certainly separate us from the animals.
After years of studying chimpanzees in the wild, Jane Goodall wrote: “I cannot conceive of chimpanzees developing emotions, one for the other, comparable in any way to the tenderness, the protectiveness, tolerance, and spiritual exhilaration that are the hallmarks of human love in its truest and deepest sense.” She also wrote: “Man’s awareness of Self supersedes the primitive awareness of a fleshly body. Man demands an explanation of the mystery of his being and the wonder of the world around him and the cosmos above him.”
The Bible explains the difference between animals and humans by saying that man was made “in God’s image.” (Genesis 1:27) Hence, unlike animals, man would reflect the spiritual image of his Maker, displaying His qualities, among which love is the foremost. Man would also be capable of taking in huge amounts of knowledge and acting with an intelligence surpassing that of any animal. Man was also made with a capacity to act according to his own free will, not being controlled mainly by instinct.
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Chimpanzees are playful and curious creatures that are perfectly designed for their environment
Chimpanzees, top right: Corbis/Punchstock/Getty Images; lower left and right: SuperStock RF/SuperStock; Jane Goodall: © Martin Engelmann/age fotostock
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