Do chimpanzees have friends?

This question was featured in the spring 2014 edition of Chimp Chatter, our quarterly newsletter.

Dear Patti,

How do you and the other chimps get along? Do chimpanzees have friends?

From, Kaleigh

Dear Kaleigh,

Having close relationships is something that chimpanzees and humans have in common. It’s in our DNA! Just like humans, chimps have very different personalities and we prefer to spend time with others with similar personalities. Sociable and bold chimps tend to spend time with equally outgoing chimps, while shy and less sociable chimps tend to spend time with other shy and reserved chimps. I am a pretty relaxed chimp most of the time so my best friends are Topo and my sister, Thiele, who are also pretty reserved. When there are arguments in the group, we back each other up and look to each other for reassurance. Thiele is also friends with Herbie. Herbie can be a little socially awkward, but he gets along pretty well with Thiele, and they sometimes sit close together, grooming each other. The kids, Jackson, Emma and CJ, are more rambunctious and spend a lot of time playing together. Sometimes Jackson tries to play with me when I’m not in the mood and I have to tell him to buzz off!


In the wild, chimpanzees live in large groups and need to cooperate to get things done and survive in the jungle. Chimpanzees who have a lot of close friends have a better chance of survival and give their offspring an advantage in life. Teaming up with a chimp of similar character helps build trust. Friendships between bold, daring chimps can be useful for fighting off predators. Chimps with similar personalities cooperate better, which is probably why the need for close, lasting friendships evolved in both chimps and humans.


You can tell that chimpanzees are friends if they spend a lot of time sitting close together, touching each other and grooming one another. Younger chimps spend time playing with each other, which is often wrestling. Sometimes when Thiele has the energy for the rambunctious, young chimps, she tickles Jackson!


Even though wild chimpanzees live in large communities, chimps spend their days in smaller groups, which change frequently. Like these wild chimps, I spend my days at Chimps Inc. with different groups. After spending a day with the energetic kids, I am worn out and in need of some quiet time. I let my caregivers know this by staying behind when the kids move on to a new enclosure. This gives me a chance to relax and catch up with my more reserved friends. We may get on each other’s nerves sometimes, but what family doesn’t?


Love, Patti