Our Closest Relatives
Chimpanzees are fascinating
and alluring creatures to most humans. Seeing them up close for the
first time, adults and children are drawn to them. Their obvious
similarity to humans makes them universally appealing to people.
Our fascination with creatures that resemble us most can be traced
back to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle talked about "apes" three
centuries before Christ. In 1640 the Prince of Orange was presented
with a chimpanzee; the first chimpanzee known to be in Europe. Sometime
before 1700, an English physician who described it as being an animal
though “sort of like” man, dissected a chimpanzee. Within
two hundred years, chimpanzees were on exhibit in zoological gardens
and in the late 1800s, Charles Darwin, intrigued by the facial expressions
of chimpanzees, wrote of their similarity to humans and pondered
the question of a possible shared common ancestor.
Field studies of chimpanzee
behavior conducted continuously over nearly forty years recorded
and described a wide variety of chimpanzee behavior. To this knowledge
base was added information obtained from laboratory and zoo behavioral
studies. The result is a growing detailed picture of the lives of
For millions of people,
National Geographic documentaries about the wild chimpanzees of Gombe
provided their first learning experience with these intelligent apes.
They watched Flo and David Greybeard and followed the stories of
their lives. Jane Goodall, the young English woman who studied them,
also became familiar and cherished. Dr. Goodall’s books and
lectures about chimpanzee mothers and infants, making and using tools,
politics and many other subjects have broadened the public’s
knowledge of chimpanzees. Additional information on biological similarities,
especially DNA studies of primates, increased our awareness of the
genetic heritage shared by chimpanzees and humans.
Chimpanzees, the lesser
known bonobo species, and humans share a common ancestor that lived
about 4 or 5 million years ago. Genetically, chimpanzees are more
closely related to us than they are to gorillas. Chimpanzees and
humans share about 98.4% of their DNA.