Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzees


Chimpanzeess (Pan troglodytes) are great apes. They live in mixed social groups from 4 to 100 individuals (Rowe, 1996). Chimpanzees, along with Bonobos (Pan paniscus), are the closest living relatives to humans (Homo sapiens sapiens), sharing over 98% of DNA (Furuichi & Thompson, 2008). They are widespread over Africa, from Senegal to Tanzania, living in the humid forests of the Congo basin to the dry savannahs of Guinea (see map below).


Distribution of Chimpanzees in tropical Africa


Chimpanzees are well known for their extremely complex social life and for their high degree of intelligence. Like human cultures, chimpanzee cultures vary based on the environment, and information is often passed down from one generation to the next (Fowler & Sommer, 2007).


Examples of Cultural Differences within Chimpanzees

  • While both chimpanzees from Congo and Guinea fish ants, fishing technique differs between the chimpanzees of the two countries, as well as the prey they target (Humle, 2013).
  • Smashing nuts has been widely studied in western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus), and recently recorded in an population of P. t. ellioti in Cameroon, but it has never been recorded in central and eastern chimpanzees (Morgan & Abwe, 2006).
  • One population of chimpanzees in Senegal is famous for being specialized in hunting nocturnal primates with spears (Pruetz & Betolani, 2007).


 Chimpanzees are commonly separated into four subspecies, based on differences in geographic origin, genetics and physical criteria. These subspecies are: the western chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus), the central chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes troglodytes), the eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti).


Central Chimpanzee/Jacques GILLON©

 Central chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes)/Jacques GUILLON©



Most of the ecological studies on P. t. ellioti have been conducted in Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Nigeria and in the Ebo Wildlife Reserve in Cameroon. Studies from the latter protected area have shown that chimpanzees in this region crack nuts - a behaviour which had never been reported in any group of chimpanzees living east of Ivory Coast until 2006 (Morgan & Abwe, 2006) -  and actively hunt monkeys for food (Morgan et al., 2012).  



While we do not know much about the behaviour of P. t. ellioti in the NWC, we do know from Doumbé’s (2013) pioneering study, that Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees in the Bamenda Highlands build night arboreal nests in lower layers than chimpanzees of lowland forests.


Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzees/Jacques GILLON©

 Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti)/Jacques GUILLON©


In the IUCN’s Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees (Morgan et al., 2011), surveys of chimpanzees in the North-West region of Cameroon were described as urgent and essential for a better protection of this subspecies.






Doumbé OA. (2013) Habitat Mapping of the Babanki-Finge Forest, and Survey on the Rarest Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti) in the Bamenda Highlands, North-West Cameroon. Master's of Research Dissertation: University of Roehampton, London, UK.

Fowler A. and Sommer V. (2007) Subsistence Technology of Nigerian Chimpanzees. International Journal of Primatology. 28: 997-1023.

Furuichi T. and Thompson J. (2008) Introduction. In: Furuichi T. and Thompson J. (eds) (2008) The Bonobos - Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. New York: Springer.

Humle T. (2013) The Bootstrapping Dimensons of Culture: Stick-Tool Use, Innovation and Invention in Chimpanzees. 17 January 2013. [seminar] London: University of Roehampton.

Morgan BJ. and Abwe EE. (2006) Chimpanzees Use Stone Hammers in Cameroon. Current Biology. 16: R632-R633.

Morgan BJ, Suh JN, and Abwe EE. (2012). Attempted Predation by Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti) on Preuss's red colobus (Procolobus preussi) in the Ebo forest, Cameroon. Folia Primatologica. 83: 329-331.

Morgan B. et al. (2011) Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of The Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes ellioti). IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and Zoological Society of San Diego, CA, USA.

Pruetz JD. and Bertolani P. (2007) Savanna Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes verus, Hunt with Tools. Current Biology. 17: 412-417.

Rowe N. (1996) The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates. East Hampton: Pogonias Press.


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