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Pet Chimpanzees

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Pet Chimpanzees

Mrs. Whitehouse with her pets in 1938.

Photo © Getty Images/Nick Yapp/Stringer

People have been keeping chimpanzees as pets for many years. Many celebrities of the past and present have owned chimps as well as people as common as your next door neighbor. The idea of having a pet that is so close to being human is nothing new but these almost human creatures now raise a lot of controversy when it comes to living the life of a pet chimpanzee.

Chimpanzees

  • Name: Common Chimpanzee, Chimp, Pan troglodytes
  • Size: Males can grow to be up to 150 pounds and females will be slightly smaller
  • Lifespan: Over 50 years
  • Natural Chimpanzee Behavior

    Chimpanzees used to be found in an area the size of the United States but are now only found in a small portion of Africa. They live in very close knit family groups of up to 120 chimps consisting of multiple males and females and are extremely social and intelligent with many able to learn words in American Sign Language.

    Chimps are active, strong, and very hands-on. They thrive in social groups of other chimps and often groom each other. Young chimps nurse for the first five years of their life and are considered adults at the age of 13. Once they reach adulthood they can become quite physical and demanding leaving many chimp owners unable to control their "teenagers."

    Chimpanzees spend their day much like that of a human. They eat, sleep, socialize, and play. If left with nothing to do a chimp will quickly get bored and can cause serious damage to a home and the people in it.

    Training Chimpanzees

    Many chimps used to be trained as service animals and would help their owners do everyday things like cook food, open doors, pick up items, and even dial 911. Some people trained their chimps to learn sign language, dress themselves, and do many things you wouldn't think about seeing a primate doing such as use the remote to watch television or play with toys meant for a human child.

    Chimpanzees can be toilet trained but many owners keep diapers on them. They can also learn how to eat with a fork and knife, pick up toys, and do many things a young child can learn to do, include test your patience.

    What Do Chimps Eat?

    Chimpanzees are omnivores (or frugivores) which means they eat both plants and animals. Fruits, leaves, insects, eggs, tree bark, nuts, and occasionally even small animals have all been observed being consumed by wild chimpanzees. In captivity the primary diet should be the formulated and nutritionally complete "monkey chow." While these primate diets offer much of what a chimpanzee needs they lack in encouraging the foraging behavior which is such an important part of their mental stimulation. Opening things like nuts, picking leaves off of branches, and biting into fruits and eggs are all very important to the well being of a chimpanzee and should be encouraged in addition to feeding the primate diet. As a basic rule of thumb, your chimp should eat about four percent of his body weight in food daily. That means if your chimp weighs 100 pounds he should eat about four pounds of a food in a day (this amount should be adjusted to maintain an ideal body weight).

    Many chimp owners give their primates some of whatever they are eating that day even if it is pizza and buffalo wings. While a chimpanzee will live and grow on a diet of fast food, spaghetti, and Chinese take-out, it will not be a long and healthy life.

    Chimpanzee Veterinary Care

    Regular veterinary visits should be a part of your chimps life. Heart disease, dental disease (chimps have 32 teeth), and diabetes are common in pet chimpanzees. Your primate should be closely monitored for the aforementioned diseases, especially if you feed a diet of human food.

    Vaccinations should be discussed with your exotics vet (find one near you) to be educated on exposure risks and available vaccines.

    Chimpanzee Housing

    Chimps are at least twice as strong as humans therefore they need a durable enclosure to keep them contained when you are unable to watch them or if they cannot be trusted. A room or large outdoor enclosure dedicated to your chimpanzee is needed along with plenty of ropes, branches, swings, and other items for your chimp to play on.

    Glass windows should be protected from being shattered by a strong chimp or thrown item and a lock should be placed on the door of the enclosure to protect both your chimp and the public.

    Is a Chimp Right For You?

    After absorbing all of this information it is important to think long and hard about adopting a chimpanzee as a pet. First and foremost, think about whether or not a chimp would truly be able to have a happy, long, and normal primate life in your home. Next, make sure you answer these questions. Will you be able to afford a pet that will live almost as long as you do? How will you keep your chimp safe from the public and visa versa? Is it legal to own a chimpanzee where you live and if so can you afford the proper permits and liability insurance that your state may require? Is there a veterinarian near you that will treat your chimp? Can you afford to properly feed a chimpanzee and get it the regular veterinary care it needs?

    These questions are just the tip of the iceberg when considering any primate for a pet. Chimpanzees do not make good pets and there are many people, even current owners of chimps, that can attest to that. Talk to current owners about all the life stages of a chimpanzee. Ask them what it costs to care for them for their lifetime. Ask them what they do when their chimp throws a temper tantrum. Ask them if they have ever been afraid of their pet. Then think about having a chimpanzee in your home some more.

    Many chimps unfortunately end up in sanctuaries because their owner could not control them or they outlived their owner. Don't get a chimpanzee if you cannot keep them and the public safe and properly provide for them their entire lives.

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