Finding Love Among Chimpanzees

Written By: Matt Brunette, JGI Canada Volunteer
Category: Great Apes

Do chimpanzees feel love?

There’s no question that chimpanzees demonstrate affection for one another.  The most obvious display of a loving attachment is between mother and infant, who form a special bond with one another. Infants will cling to the mother’s belly for the first six months of life and then ride on her back until the age of two. A young chimp will remain close to their mother for the next eight years or so, after which a chimp will assert greater social independence.

Baby chimp cuddles mother chimp

The deep affection between a mother chimp and her offspring is essential for survival. Young chimpanzees learn from their mother where to find food, what to eat, how to use tools and build nests to sleep in. A mother’s care also provides a young chimp with a degree of safety. If group play gets too rough, mom is usually close by to respond when her little one cries out. Moreover, female chimpanzees have been observed visibly mourning the death of an infant, in many cases carrying the body of the deceased offspring for days at a time, seeking the consolation and reassurance of other chimps. If a mother passes away prematurely, another adult female will typically step in to care for the orphan.

Adult chimpanzees also display affection for one another – although, unlike people, chimpanzees are not monogamous. Adult chimps embrace and kiss each other, throw an arm around the shoulders of a buddy, and clearly develop friendships. The practice of grooming – when one chimp picks through the fur of another to pluck out insects and parasites – is as much about social bonding and trust building as it is about hygiene. Chimpanzees use grooming to build and strengthen relationships, calm or reconcile group tensions, and ultimately to form deeper bonds that are essential for keeping the group safe in the wild.

  

Though some may question whether chimpanzees love each other the way we do, there is ample evidence that chimpanzees have deeply affectionate relationships with one other, and these are as important for enriching their social lives as they are for survival.

For Valentine’s Day, why not share some chimp love with another primate by sending a loved one a very special Valentine’s Day eCard!