For many people, the idea of having a pet chimpanzee is an appealing thought. Chimpanzees are intelligent animals with strong social skills, and they can learn sign language in captivity. They can use tools, they have emotions, and they’re even self-aware.
Sounds like a dream friend, right? Unfortunately, these animals are not domesticated or suitable for life as a pet, making them difficult to care for. As chimpanzees grow up, they become stronger than humans and can pose a serious risk of injury. This blog post will detail why we do not endorse keeping a chimpanzee as a pet.
What Is a Chimpanzee?
The name “chimpanzee” was first recorded in the 18th century and came from a Tshiluba word meaning “they are men,” or possibly just apes.
In popular culture, most people are referring to a human-like “great ape”, but there are four confirmed subspecies, and two species of chimpanzees are endangered: the common chimpanzee and the bonobo—both members of the genus Pan. Common chimps and bonobos have 98.8% genetic similarity; bonobos have a slightly longer face and darker skin.
Chimpanzees are social animals who often live in large groups (anywhere from 10 to 250 individuals). The life of a chimpanzee is very complex; they have an intricate hierarchy system, and their relationships with one another can be very strong. Chimpanzees typically only spend about 10–15% of their day foraging, and the rest of their time is spent resting, grooming, socializing, playing, or fighting. They even engage in some behaviors that we consider to be emotional – like comforting.
What Makes Chimpanzees Bad Pets?
With that cleared up, let’s examine why chimpanzees would not make good pets for the majority of us. The first and most obvious reason is legality.
It’s illegal to own a chimpanzee in the United States. If you’re caught owning one, it could result in heavy fines and even jail time, depending on where you live. In most states, people have been arrested for keeping chimpanzees as pets, so proceed with caution if you’re still considering getting a chimp as a pet.
In the hypothetical scenario where you were offered a rescued chimp, there would still be many drawbacks to the companionship.
They Need a Lot of Space to Be Happy
Keeping a chimp as a pet could mean that you will need to move into a huge house (about 2,500 square feet, or even larger). Chimpanzees require an environment that is very similar to their natural habitat to be comfortable.
The typical territory belonging to a troop of chimpanzees covers 5 to 30 miles in the wild, but they are known for traveling up to 50 miles away from their territory, searching for food. They are also very strong, so it will be hard to chimp-proof your home. If you keep your ape in a cage, it needs to be sturdy so that the chimp cannot escape.
A Specialized Diet
There’s no chimp kibble at your local grocery store because apes require a much more complex and varied diet than other pets like cats and dogs.
Chimpanzees need to consume approximately two-thirds of their body weight in food each day, so you must be able to provide a large volume of different types of food. They mostly eat fruit, but they’ll also eat leaves, flowers, and meat. They need to consume a variety to get all the nutritional components that their bodies require.
In the wild, chimpanzees will typically have access to nearly 100 different species of food. As mentioned before, you would likely not be able to replicate this sort of diet for your pet chimp, nor the mental stimulation that comes from foraging or hunting. The consequences of poor nutrition could have devastating effects on your ape and would likely shorten their lifespan.
Lack of Socialization
To reiterate, chimps are social creatures. Unless the chimp is completely integrated into a human lifestyle, it needs a companion. So, one chimpanzee isn’t enough. Like humans, loneliness may lead to erratic and desperate behavior in chimps. Studies have shown a link between traumatic experience and depression in captive apes.
High Cost of Living / Long Lifespan
A chimpanzee will require a vast enclosure that is in line with its natural habitat. It would also be costly to buy the proper equipment for your chimp, including enrichment activities and toys (even if you made them yourself). The initial cost of keeping an ape as a pet could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
It will also be tough to find a veterinarian willing to treat your ape, especially if your pet needs surgery or any kind of treatment requiring anesthesia. Wild chimpanzees are often killed when they’re captured and taken into captivity because there aren’t many vets qualified to perform surgical procedures on them. You would likely have to travel a long distance to find someone who is qualified and willing to treat your chimp.
Considering these animals live upwards of 50 years, it will be a massive financial investment if you plan to keep your ape for its entire lifespan. Also, consider the emotional toll that it would take on you if your chimp lives to be 50 or 60 and needs constant medical attention.
Transmission Of Diseases
This is a concern with any exotic animal you own, but especially dangerous when caring for chimps. These apes are endangered animals because of humans and now live in zoos and sanctuaries where they are protected from the population.
Chimpanzees can transmit several deadly diseases to humans, including hepatitis B, herpes B virus, and tuberculosis. However, there is also the danger of your chimp transmitting a disease to you that could be fatal. Because they are so similar to humans, chimps can transmit H5N1 avian flu (bird flu) as well as HIV/AIDS.
Strength / Unpredictability
If you plan to handle your pet chimp, you must be extremely careful as they are very strong.
Chimps can lift to 440 pounds, and even throw it for 2 meters! Their leg strength is 14 times greater than their arm strength, allowing them to break bones in humans easily. In the wild, chimpanzees also would not fear attacking or physically intimidating humans.
Mauling/Attacks on chimps are often fatal.
In the past decade, over 100 reported attacks by chimpanzees against humans have resulted in many maulings and even deaths. The most common reason that a chimp will attack is if it feels threatened or stressed due to being startled or separated from its troop.
They Are Wild Animals
This reason should be applied to any species out there. Humans have done enough damage by tampering with the natural order of things. Remember the prime directive!
Examples of Chimpanzees as Pets
Throughout history, there have been many examples of people keeping chimps as pets.
The United States Air Force owned a chimpanzee named “Able” for many years during the Cold War. They used it for aerial reconnaissance training.
And who can forget the god-sent Jane Goodall? She is perhaps the most famous human to have ever raised a chimpanzee as a pet. Her chimp, “David Greybeard,” was her baby for years before releasing him back into the wild.
There are just so many problems with keeping chimpanzees as pets. They require enormous space, transmit disease, pose a physical threat to humans, and are wild animals! Even the most dedicated animal lovers out there should have enough common sense to know that chimps shouldn’t be kept as pets.
There’s another reason we didn’t mention, so we’ll say it straight: it is cruel to keep a chimp in the confines of your house for all its days of life because there is no other place for them.
Instead, we should focus on repopulating the species and giving them a better natural habitat! We destroyed it, now it’s on us to fix it!
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay