Ethogram for chimpanzee

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Chimpanzees are great apes and are considered as the some of the closest relatives to humans based on the theory of evolution. Genetic analyses indicate that humans and the chimps share about 98.6% of their DNA, a prospect that affirms the closeness between the species (Proust, 2016). The other close ape relatives to chimpanzees include the gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and the gibbons. The primary differentiating feature between the apes and the monkeys is that the latter have tails while members of the ape family lack tails. The estimated population of chimpanzees in their native Africa is estimated to be up to 300,000, with the progressive rapid decline in the population affirming the endangered state of the species (Save the Chimps, 2017). Therefore, efforts to protect the population have been enhanced in different parts of the globe.

Ethnographic analyses of chimpanzees indicate that they share a lot of behavioral properties with humans. The organisms are organized in communities that often range between 15 and 20 members. However, chimps in captivities may have far less members constituting their communities. The organizational structure of the chimpanzees is such that each community has an alpha male leader who is the most powerful member of the group. The powers exhibited by the alpha male are drawn from the absolute support that they get from the female members of their communities (Save the Chimps, 2017). While the communities have pecking orders, they are relatively fluid and flexible, hence the constitution and leadership of any given community of chimpanzees can change at different times subject to complex prevailing factors.

Communication between chimpanzees occur through complex mix of gestures, vocalizations, facial expressions and body languages. They are thus able to express their feelings of displeasure, happiness, gratitude and emotional desires effectively. In addition, Maestripieri et al. (2005) indicate that chimpanzees like playing together, and often tend to laugh while playing with each other. In a few instances, the chimpanzees can misunderstand each other during their plays hence engaging each other in fist fights. The other common behavior noted in the chimpanzees, according to Schino (2006), is their love for grooming. Study by Schino (2006) indicates that the apes spend a significant part of their day grooming each other to appear attractive and also to develop social and emotional connections with each other. For instance, Nishida et al. (1999) notes that mothers of new babies are often groomed by curious members of their communities who want to get closer to the newborns. While a chimp can groom themselves, there are many instances that they request for grooming for their relatives. In view of the diverse behavioral and social traits exhibited by the apes, it interesting to study them to understand the key factors behind the different behaviors that they exhibit.

Ethogram for Chimpanzee

Observed Behavior Type Behavior Description Behavior Code
Doze The chimpanzee dozes off with his eyes partially open D
Relax The chimp sits on the branch and relaxes in an idle fashion R
Sit The chimpanzee sits on a branch with his legs hanging freely S
Defense Strategies      
Internal fight The chimpanzee engages in a fight with other members of his community IF
Run The chimpanzee runs to another tree when overpowered in the fight RU
Avoidance The chimpanzee avoids other members of his community A
Open Mouth The chimpanzee opens his mouth and exposes teeth in response to the largest chimpanzee in the group OM
Feeding Habits      
Pluck leaves The chimp plucks and eats a bunch of leaves P
Jaw Movement The ape moves his jaws in both horizontal and vertical manner as he chews the leaves. JM
Mouth and Teeth The chimp opens his mouth widely exposing both his lower and upper teeth MT
Social Interactions      
Gaming and Playing The chimp joins other chimps and play together for some time. GP
Grooming The chimpanzee grooms another chimp seated on his right as he swings his legs freely G
Body Contact The chimp hugs other chimpanzees together at once. He holds them for some time before letting go BC
Communication The chimpanzees open their mouth and show their teeth to each other to communicate. C

Behavior Budget

Observed Behavior Type Behavior Time Spent (min) Percentage


Solitude 30 20
Defense 10 6.67
Internal fight  
Open Mouth  
Feeding 23 15.33
Pluck leaves  
Jaw Movement  
Mouth and Teeth  
Social Interactions 69 46
Gaming and Playing  
Body Contact  
Swimming and Dabbling 13 8.67
Others 5 3.33


The ethogram indicates that chimpanzees can be social and antisocial based on their feelings at specific points in time. According to the observations, the antisocial chimps tend to stay alone while their social counterparts stay in groups, together with the members of their communities. The observations showed that the chimpanzee of interest spent a better part of his time alone. This could be a result of conflicts within their groups. It could also be associated with the dominance of the alpha chimpanzee, a prospect that makes other male competitors to stay in solitude for most of their times. The observations on the first day showed that the chimpanzee of interest stayed solitary on a branch for a long period before eventually rejoining other members. While moving back to the group, the chimpanzee intentionally avoided the first chimp it met, but subsequently hugged other chimps. This could suggest that the first chimpanzee was an alpha male and that there was some sort of misunderstanding between the two chimpanzees. Also, the selective hugging shows that chimps, like their human relatives, have close list of friends within their communities. This implies that the specific chimps that were hugged by the returning chimp were either his close friends or family members.

Also, the study on the behaviors of the chimps showed that sleeping formed a better part of their day. The observations indicated that the chimpanzees tend to doze off like humans, initially partially closing their eyes before eventually getting consumed in the sleep. According to the ethogram, most chimpanzees sleep on the branches. This could be a safety precaution. However, there are also instances when other animals tend to displace them from their preferred branches. The observations showed that the displacement of the chimps from their territories is likely to be associated with conflict and subsequent fight between the species. During the study of the species, I noted that the displaced chimpanzee found an alternative branch but kept looking at the branch from which he had been displaced. This could be indicative of anger, especially when viewed from the perspective of the fight that ensued before the organism was displaced. It was also clear that the chimpanzees feel pain like their human cousins. For instance, the chimpanzee touched his head and noticed bleeding. This means that the body part that was injured by the other animals was perhaps the key reason for the hatred that the chimp exhibited towards the dominant species.

During the subsequent studies, focus was directed to four fundamental traits which included; sleeping, basking in the sun, swimming and dabbling, and grooming. Fundamentally, it was notable that the chimpanzees loved grooming each other. Generally, the study indicated that chimps groom for about 5% of their time. There are several reasons that have since been suggested to explain the grooming culture noted in these organisms. The first key reason why the chimpanzees groom is to be hygienic. Maestripieri et al. (2005) affirm that the chimps are able to remove parasites, insects, dirt, and dead skin through grooming. Therefore, the process helps to keep the animal’s skin in the best condition possible. Notably, most grooming is done when the organisms are passive, a general way of spending their leisure time. In this light, it is arguable that grooming helps to make the chimpanzees fit and motivated. The process occurs regularly, a prospect supported by the observed grooming cases throughout the ten-day period for the study.

On the other hand, grooming in chimpanzees is a way of reciprocating positive gesture and exhibiting gratitude. There are cases of reciprocity as well as allogrooming in chimpanzees. Schino (2006) indicates that the chimpanzees can only be groomed if they are ready to groom others. Therefore, the observed cases of grooming during the study period could be cited as ways of bonding and fostering positive relationships between the different members of the community. While grooming each other, the chimpanzees seemed to exhibit distinct patterns in body language. Specifically, they were smacking their teeth and also producing certain clicking sounds. Generally, grooming was a widely practiced culture among the chimpanzees, and was observed in multiple members of the community at different points in the course of the study.

The other major observation that was made related to the tendency of the chimps to bask in the sun. The observations that were made in the evening showed that a significant proportion of the chimp population moved from the trees and preferred to bask in the sun. The choice of the evening as the ideal time to bask in the sun is perhaps informed by the reduced intensity of the sun’s radiations hence which makes it favorable to bask and engage in gaming. Computations of the average time that the apes spent basking under the sun accounted for about 45% of their entire evenings, computed throughout the 10 day period.

On the other hand, the chimps showed tendencies to dabble and swim. During the study, the chimps dabbled or swam for about 15 minutes daily. However, no cases of swimming were observed on two occasions, days 3 and 7. This were attributed to the unfavorable weather conditions on the two occasions. Generally, the chimps seemed to prefer swimming when it was relatively hot, while others opted to stay in the shades on the tree branches. The chimps that stayed on the branches engaged in grooming primarily. In cases when the chimps were solitary, they would either sleep, eat leaves or yawn. The chimps were relatively passive around mid-day. It is at this point that I noticed that the focus organism as well as other chimps preferred to stay idle and docile on the branches. They were in shaded regions, perhaps to escape the strong rays of the sun. As the intensity of the sun weakened towards evening hours, the chimps became more active and engaged in playing and grooming each other. This indicates that the passivity was primarily due to the high temperatures which also forced the focus organism to doze off. Besides, the organism seemed to eat leaves around mid-day. This could be attributed to the bouts of hunger that are often associated with the high temperature. Biologically, the need for homeostatic regulation of temperatures around mid-day necessitated food intake for metabolism.


In summary, chimpanzees exhibit behaviors that closely conform to their human cousins. The species are genetically related to humans, sharing up to 98.6% of their genome with Homo sapiens. The apes are known to exhibit behavioral diversity depending on their states of health and social interactions within their specific communities. The ethographic analysis showed that the species were more likely to relax around mid-day when they could sleep on the branches and also feed on the leaves. The focus organism, just like other chimps, seemed tired around mid-day, but rejuvenated and playful towards evening. Also, the study revealed that chimps were likely to engage in violent confrontations, especially when gaming went south. Nonetheless, they seemed to care about each other and would often groom each other to bond and be hygienic.

Appendix 1: Observations

The behavior observation begins at 10.20am after we arrive at the park five minutes after 10.00am. I chose this specific park since chimpanzees are rarely disturbed by human activities in this park since visitors are very few. From 10.20 to 10.25am I observe the chimpanzee relaxing on a branch. The chimpanzee seems to be exhausted and it is outstretched on a branch with its eyes half closed. The animal is immobile and does not stretch itself even for a single second. The animal seems like it is going to fall asleep shortly.

The chimpanzee starts sleeping from 10.25am to 10.35am. The chimpanzee dozes off on the branch after some minutes of relaxing with eyes partially open. The animal closes its eyes and opens its mouth. The animal is not awoken even by the noises of the other chimpanzees and other monkeys that are playing near it. The chimpanzee wakes up at 10.35am. After taking a nap, the chimpanzee wakes up stretching its hands and legs. The animal opens up its eyes and gazes into space. The animal tilts its head sideways to observe its surrounding.

At 10.39am I observe the chimpanzee plucking leaves from the branch it is lying on. The animal stretches its right hand and plucks a handful of leaves by pulling the leaves aggressively. It is lying flat on the branch and only stretches its right hand to pluck the leaves. After holding the leaves for a few minutes the chimpanzee starts chewing at 10.42am. The animal opens up its mouth widely exposing its upper and lower teeth. It puts the leaves into its mouth and starts chewing them.  It moves its jaws in a horizontal and vertical manner as it chews the leaves.

The chimpanzee stops chewing the leaves at 10.46am and stands on the branch it was lying on. It stretches both its hands and opens its eyes widely. The animal looks sideways as if to determine which direction to move. The animal stands on the branch for a few seconds without moving. At 10.51am the focus animal is in locomotion. The animal starts moving towards its right side where other chimpanzees are sitting. The animal moves slowly towards the others by jumping onto the different branches and twigs on the tree.  It hangs onto a branch for some seconds before eventually jumping onto the other tree where the other chimpanzees are sitting.

At 10.55am as the chimpanzee moves towards the other chimpanzees, it avoids a certain chimpanzee. After jumping onto the tree that other chimpanzees are sitting, the chimpanzee avoids the first chimpanzee that it meets. The chimpanzee it avoids is the largest of all. It seems that the chimpanzee is not in good terms with the largest chimpanzee in the group as both open the mouths exposing their teeth. The largest chimpanzee is most probably the leader of the group.

The chimpanzee hugs other chimpanzees for some minutes from 10.56am to 11.02am. The chimpanzee hugs some of the chimpanzees that it meets on the tree. The animal hugs about three animals that it encounters. It hugs the other animals together at once and the animals hold each other for a while before letting go. After hugging the other chimpanzees the chimpanzee sits on the branch that it was standing on while hugging the other animals. At 11.04am the animal sits hanging its legs same as the other animals. The animal swings its legs as it is sits on the branch. The animal seems tired. I observe the focus animal resting on the branch that it was sitting on from 11.14am to 11.20am. The animal stretches its body. The animal lays its head on the thighs of the next seated chimpanzee. The animal’s eyes become sleepy since they are partially opened.

I decide to halt my observation process and break for lunch. I continue with my study from 2.00pm. At 2.02pm the chimpanzee starts grooming another chimpanzee that is seated on its right. The animal caresses the other animal’s fur smoothly as it swings its legs. It uses its left hand to caress the animal. The animal under study begins to caress the chimpanzee on its right using its left hand. The chimpanzee caresses the others at the same time using both hands. After grooming other chimpanzees, the chimpanzee is groomed by the chimpanzees it was grooming from 2.12pm to 2.18pm. The two chimpanzees that the focus animal was grooming begin to groom it. The focus chimpanzee stops grooming the two chimpanzees and lets them to groom it instead. The animal is groomed smoothly by the two chimpanzees at the same time.

At 2.20pm the chimpanzee begins playing with other chimpanzees. The animal plays with the chimpanzees that were grooming. The three chimpanzees jump over each other as they play. The other chimpanzees on the branch and other branches that are near join in the games. During the play session the focus chimpanzee grabs another that is involved in the games at 2.31pm. It grabs the other animal softly at first for about three minutes and pulls it. The grabbing and pulling gets aggressive as the other animal tries to resist. The animal uses its right hand at first but afterwards uses both hands to pull the play mate. The focus animal is successive in pulling the playmate towards it and it holds the playmate tightly.

The playing and grabbing process turns into a fight at 2.37pm. The focus animal starts fighting with the chimpanzee that it had grabbed. The animals fight for eight minutes up to 2.45pm. The other animal reacts aggressively towards the focus animal for grabbing it forcefully. The other animal opens its mouth widely as it tries to bite the focus animal. The focus animal moves backwards and opens its mouth widely in retaliation. The two animals make sounds to threaten each other.

After the fight ends at 2.28pm, the chimpanzee is displaced by other animals from the tree. The focus animal is ganged up against by the other chimpanzees on the tree including the largest chimpanzee. The focus animal tries to fight the other four chimpanzees that have ganged against it. The chimpanzee is unable to fight the animals in situations where blood is dripping from its head. The chimpanzee tries to resist displacement but it is chased away and it flees from the tree at 2.53pm. The focus animal flees toward the next tree after it concedes defeat. The animal jumps onto different branches and twigs before finally reaching its destination. The animal almost misses the next tree’s branch but luckily it is able to hold on using only its right hand. At 2.58pm the chimpanzee settles on the tree it has fled to alone as it touches its head. The animal looks at its hand and sees blood. The animal sits down and looks in the direction where the animals that attacked it are sitting. The behavioral observation ends at 3.02pm

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  1. Maestripieri, D., Aureli, F., Bachorowski, J., Beran, M., Bering, J., & Call, J. et al. (2005). Primate Psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  2. Nishida, T., Kano, T., Goodall, J., McGrew, W., & Nakamura, M. (1999). Ethogram and Ethnography of Mahale Chimpanzees. Anthropological Science, 107(2), 141-188.
  3. Proust, J. (2016). The Evolution of Primate Communication and Metacommunication. Mind & Language, 31(2), 177-203.
  4. Save the Chimps. (2017). Chimp Facts, Articles, Recommended Reading. Save the Chimps. Retrieved 5 December 2017, from
  5. Schino, G. (2006). Grooming and agonistic support: a meta-analysis of primate reciprocal altruism. Behavioral Ecology, 18(1), 115-120.
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