Chimpanzee Lifespan

Chimpanzees are our closest nonhuman relatives in the animal kingdom, so it is no surprise that a chimpanzee’s lifespan is similar to humans. In everyone’s lifespan there are various stages in our lives that define us and by using these stages we can see how similar we are to the chimpanzee. Obviously, every event that happens in a chimpanzee’s life does not occur in our own life, and there are lots of things that happen in our life that don’t happen in a chimpanzee’s life. However, this highlights how some important aspects of chimpanzees’ lives relate to our lives. 

Starting at the beginning of any animal’s lifespan. Female chimpanzees’ pregnancies can last about 230 days, whereas in humans we have a longer pregnancy that lasts us about 280 days! When a chimpanzee is born they are helpless, with little to no grasping abilities, so parental care mostly from the mother is crucial at this point in time. Humans are the same in this instance since babies are also born helpless and we depend on our mother for care. However, a baby chimpanzee is born with a cute pink face and white hair tuft on their backside that disappears with age. The baby chimp also does not have a full coat of fur; rather their fur grows in and thickens into maturity. Think about how similar this actually is to humans, although we may not be born with a white tuft of fur or a pink face, we are born with baby features. Sometimes human baby’s hair and eye color changes as they age and we gain more hair as we age.


The baby chimpanzee is then carried by the mother on her front side for 3 to 6 months and as the baby grows they begin to ride around on their mother’s back. Even we humans are carried around when we are babies until we are stable enough to walk on our own. You have probably seen a mother holding her baby while waiting in line or maybe you have seen her hold her baby in a holder that rests on her back or in the front of her. Around the age of 2 years the baby chimp will start to venture from their mother and explore independently, yet they still will not move beyond an area of around 16 feet from her. At around age 3 they will expand their exploratory area and move farther and farther away from their mother. When we were babies, we did not stay with our mother as closely as chimpanzee babies do.  From the moment we are born there are times that we are 16 feet or farther away from our mother. 


Chimpanzees are weaned when they are between 3.5 and 4.5 years old.  Weaning is when the mother no longer provides her milk to the young animal, and they begin to eat the same food that the older animals do. The age of weaning in humans depends on where we live, our culture, and our mother’s choice. At ages 4 to 5 chimpanzees begin sleeping on their own, making their own nests. We normally sleep in our own crib or bed close to mom from the time we are born.


During the juvenile period, from about six to nine years old, chimpanzees remain close to their mother but play independently and have greater social interactions with other community members. Think about how your life changed during these years and how much you grew up!  We have social ties and interactions with other individuals throughout our infancy.  We communicate and play with others. Typically at around 4 years old, we will go to school but are still kept under the supervision of adults.


Young typically travel all the time with their mother until they reach puberty.  Puberty is a stage in life when physical changes happen allowing the individual to reproduce.  Females usually go through puberty slightly earlier than males. We don’t usually always travel with our mother until this time like chimpanzees do.  Around this age though, we are still dependent on our parents living in their house, relying on them for necessities, etc.  Just as in chimpanzees, females usually go through puberty earlier than males on average. At around age 7, males become interested in establishing themselves in a dominance hierarchy. Then at age 10 the males will split from their mother. However, in humans a dominance hierarchy within a community group is not seen in humans, as it is seen in chimpanzees.  We do not gain status in the way that chimpanzees do, although looking in our past one might argue differently. Also in humans, the age in which a male leaves his mother or home is quite varied but generally occurs when he is in his twenties.


In adulthood, chimpanzee males can have their first child around 15 years old, but females since they mature sooner can have their first child between 13 and 14 years old. They can even have a child every 3 to 5 years! In humans, depending on the culture a person was raised in, can have a child this young but typically they do not until later in life. Also in humans the time between a human having one baby and the next baby varies tremendously depending on the parent’s preferences. As a chimpanzee ages, both females and males, begin getting grey hair at the top of the head and can even begin to bald. This is true for humans as well, but balding is much more common in males.


This now brings us to the end of the lifespan. In chimpanzees both males and females have been seen to reproduce until death. In humans due to our given average life expectancy, neither males nor females usually have children until death, although males technically can father a child when they are very old. Chimpanzee’s average wild life expectancy is 45 years old. Our average life expectancy can depend on a lot of different factors. Generally, it is between 60 and 70 years old.


Message from CAC'ers

When we traveled to Tanzania, we got to see chimpanzees of all ages! This was very exciting for us because we got to see chimpanzees, ranging from newborns to adults that were old and grey. The newborns stuck close to mom, nursing and playing. All of us thought this was the most adorable thing ever and remembered playing with our parents when we were little!


We also saw a female chimpanzee, almost at the age where she would become independent from her mother, call out for mom when they got separated. We waited anxiously to see if mom would give into her daughter’s whining. We also knelt down and relaxed near an old grey male as he lay in the grass of the forest being groomed by another male. 


It was cool to hang out as a group of friends, watching while a chimpanzee socialized with one of his old companions!



Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.