Anthropology P380: Lecture 7: Chimpanzee Foraging and Diet

So far we have compared primates and humans physiologically and in broad nutritional terms. Today we are going to look more closely at BEHAVIORAL comparisons, specifically at issue of foraging for plant and animal foods, focused on our closest living relative, the chimpanzee.

Two species of chimp survive in Africa today, the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes; 3 subspecies) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus).


All chimps depend upon fruits of trees, shrubs, and terrestrial herbs, and the leaves and stems of herbaceous plants to survive, though bonobos depend more upon terrestrial herbaceous vegetation (THV) than common chimps do. Compared to bonobos, common chimps also eat more honey, sap, and many types of insects and bird eggs when they can get them.



Chimps also hunt small mammals. We will watch video examples of different hunting techniques in West Africa (Tai Forest) and East Africa (Gombe). Below is a graph from an article about chimp hunting at Gombe by Craig Stanford, which you can read online!


Many chimp foods can only be acquired by learning special techniques, such as tool use, to find and access them, and these learned behaviors vary from population to population. Now that the different subspecies of chimps are isolated, geographically, from each other, with overlapping, but distinctive sets of foraging behaviors.

Methods to assess chimp (any primate's) diet include:

  • % of time spent feeding on a particular food item
  • amount of food ingested (difficult to ascertain and rarely measured)
  • analysis of % of fecal materials


Key points to look for in videos:

 types of foods & their relative importance?

  • plant foods?
  • animal foods?
  • key protein sources?
  • access to energy?

 diet variability

  • between individuals?
  • between populations?
  • between habitats/seasons?

 role of tools:

  • food acquisition?
  • food processing?

 labor for

  • food acquisition?
  • food processing?

 social context

  • feeding competition?
  • food sharing?


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Last updated: 3 February, 1998

Copyright 1998 Jeanne Sept