They are among our closest relatives, sharing over 98% of our DNA. Living in family groups of 15 to 20, each chimpanzee group has a personality of its own and seeing them in the wild is everything from humorous to awe-inspiring. Opportunities for observing chimpanzees in the wild in Africa range from tracking unhabituated chimps in Nyungwe Forest or Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, to visiting habituated groups in Virunga National Park in DRC and Kibale National Park in Uganda to the long-studied chimps of Gombe and Mahale Mountains of western Tanzania. Although chimp sightings are not guaranteed, the odds of seeing them are still good, especially with habituated groups. The odds are also good that you will see other primates during your hike, including the grey-cheeked managebey and the red-tailed or golden monkey (depending on where you are). In addition, while you explore deep into lush green forests, these treks are generally less strenuous than hiking to find mountain gorillas. You also have the option to visit one of several chimpanzee sanctuaries, including Ngamba Island in Uganda and Sweetwaters in Kenya.
Chimpanzees are currently found in 21 countries in equatorial Africa and are an endangered species. They are entirely extinct from 4 African countries, and nearly so in 10 others. There are an estimated 150,000 total chimpanzees remaining in Africa. The largest remaining populations occur in central Africa, mainly Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Cameroon. Threats to remaining chimpanzee populations include habitat loss, logging, hunting for bush meat or to secure the infants for the exotic animal trade, mining and human disease (chimpanzees are vulnerable to more than 140 human diseases). These threats are exacerbated by chimps' slow reproduction and maturation rates—if an adult is killed, it takes 14-15 years to replace him or her as a breeding individual (read more from Wildlife Conservation Society). Many conservation efforts are focused on preserving habitats that can support healthy chimpanzee populations. There are efforts in some areas to link segregated populations to one another through the use of corridors, for example the Green Corridor Project in Guinea and the World Wildlife Fund is working throughout West and Central Africa to conserve chimpanzee habitat.
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