May 20, 2024

By Lincoln Park Zoo

With adorable grins and incredible smarts, chimpanzees have stolen the hearts of many for generations. But their good looks have also made them vulnerable to humans. Learn about threats to chimpanzees and ways you can help protect them.


A chimpanzee is smelling a pink flower. The chimpanzee is an ape with black hair, which one has small white hairs on its chin as well. It's sitting on some wood chips near a grassy area.

Magadi takes time to smell the roses. Credit | Dianne Mohr


Chimpanzees in the entertainment industry

Chimpanzees in entertainment are not only bad for the wild populations of chimpanzees, but also for the individual welfare of the chimp itself. The great news, though, is that you can help protect chimpanzees every day by pausing before posting.


Pause before posting photos of chimpanzees

Any time you see a video of an animal online or in an entertainment setting, especially a primate, take a moment before you “like” or reshare a post. Does this animal look like they have a choice? Does their environment seem appropriate for the species? Do they live with other chimpanzees? Do they look like they are happy?

That last question is a slight trick question — just because chimpanzees are smiling doesn’t mean they’re happy. In fact, when a chimpanzee has a wide mouth and shows its teeth, this is called a fear grimace. It typically means the animal is scared or uncomfortable.

So, the next time you see a chimpanzee “smiling” on a greeting card or a primate hugging a golden retriever, remember to pause before posting or purchasing to help support chimpanzees.


A chimpanzee looking towards into the distance. This chimpanzee looks older than others and has more of a tan face with less hair.

Eli is one of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s recent rescued chimpanzees. Credit | Lincoln Park Zoo


Former chimpanzee actors find home at zoo

Chimpanzees are one of humans’ closest-living relatives. With their similarities to humans, such as expressive faces, opposable thumbs and their ability to walk bipedally (on two feet), chimpanzees are often an attractive option to be animal actors in movies.

Research from Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago showed that when people saw these images of chimpanzees in human settings, they were less likely to think of them as endangered and therefore less likely to help conserve them. In some cases, it even increased desire to have these animals as pets.

To help chimpanzees, Lincoln Park Zoo developed ChimpCARE. This project locates all the chimpanzees in the United States to get them into appropriate homes with troops of multiple males and females.

Most recently, Lincoln Park Zoo welcomed chimpanzees Eli and Susie, who were actors when they were young and were forced to perform in movies and music videos. Like other chimpanzees trained for entertainment, they were deemed unsuitable for such work after just a few short years, despite most chimpanzees living for many decades.


A chimpanzee kneeling, looking towards the camera.

Susie is settling in her new home after being rescued from the entertainment industry. Credit | Lincoln Park Zoo


Conserving chimpanzees in the wild

 ChimpCARE isn’t the only way zoos helps chimpanzees. In addition to supporting chimpanzees living in human care, conservation for wild chimpanzee populations is happening every day. A number of zoos are a part of the chimpanzee Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Saving program dedicated to preserving these primates.

Lincoln Park Zoo is a proud chimp SAFE partner. For more than 30 years, the zoo has had a presence in the Goualougo Triangle in the Republic of Congo — the only place in the world where chimpanzees and western lowland gorillas share habitat!


A poster about the chimpanzee SAFE program from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It was a chimpanzee on it with a faint backdrop of a forest and the AZA and SAFE logos in the bottom right corner.


In the pristine forest environment of the Congo Basin, zoo researchers at the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project study the behavior, health and social dynamics of these primates while providing economic opportunities and education to nearby communities. These scientists were the first in the world to document complex tool use in chimps and the first to record interactions between gorillas and chimps.

This groundbreaking long-term project has also clarified the threats to these apes and provided solutions. For example, the zoo has worked with logging companies to provide data that helped minimize the impact of logging on chimp habitat. Most recently, having years of great ape data helped add a 36-square mile area, the Djeke Triangle, on to nearby Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, protecting another habitat!

Great work is happening across many zoos to help conserve chimpanzees. To learn more about the chimpanzee SAFE program or ways you can help, visit


A chimpanzee sitting at the top of what are supposed to mimic bamboo stalks. They are large poles and painted green and brown to mimic what bamboo shoots look like.


Fun facts about chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are great apes and a fascinating species. Do you know the difference between a monkey and apes? An easy way to tell them apart is that monkeys have tails, while apes do not.

Here are some of our other favorite chimpanzee facts:

  • Chimpanzees are between 4 and 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weigh up to 130 pounds.
  • They are covered in dark brown hair except their face and ears.
  • Social structure is a very important part of a chimpanzee’s life. They live in large groups that include multiple males and females.
  • These apes are endangered, but their remaining populations can be found in western and central Africa.
  • Like other apes, chimpanzees are super smart! They use a variety of tools including sticks, rocks and leaves to help manipulate termite mounds to get a delicious snack. They’ve even been documented using tool sets to accomplish tasks in a set order, such as a using strong stick to break the termite mound, a thin stick to disrupt the termites and a chewed stick to create a brush to get out as many termites as possible.


For more chimpanzees protected under the SAFE program, check out this video from the Dallas Zoo.

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