Captive chimpanzees have a life expectancy of about 40 years

By Brooks Hays
If chimpanzees that grow up in captivity reach adulthood, 12 years of age, they typically live to be 40. Photo by Chimp Haven/UPI
If chimpanzees that grow up in captivity reach adulthood, 12 years of age, they typically live to be 40. Photo by Chimp Haven/UPI

Oct. 3 (UPI) -- When raised in captivity, Chimpanzees live an average of 40 years, according to a new study by researchers in Japan.

Most surveys of the chimpanzee lifespans have focused on wild apes, but many chimps live the majority of their lives in captivity.


For the study, published Thursday in the journal Primates, scientists analyzed data on captive chimps in Japan. The research time scanned a database spanning the last 100 years, featuring information on more 1,000 individuals.

Despite the wealth of information housed by the database, scientists knew little about how long captive chimps live.

"Most nationwide chimpanzee data are held in studbooks shared amongst zoo communities," Kristin Havercamp, a scientist at Kyoto University's Wildlife Research Center, said in a news release. "And since prior studies are either small or outdated, our understanding of chimpanzee longevity under human care was limited. Thanks to the Great Ape Information Network we were able to explore this more extensively."

The Great Ape Information Network, GAIN, contains data on all great apes living in Japan. The earliest of the 1,017 chimpanzee entries dates to 1927. During the latter half of the 20th century, chimps were captured in Africa and brought to disparate parts of the globe for entertainment and research purposes.


Of the more than 1,000 chimps that have been brought to or born in Japan, scientists identified 821 individuals with information on importation, birth, migration and death.

To calculate the chimpanzee's likely longevity in captivity, researchers only looked at the lifespans of chimps that reach adulthood, or 12 years of age. Males lived an average of 41.5 years, while females lived 39.2 years.

"These numbers change when the high infant mortality rate is considered," said Havercamp. "Around one in every five chimpanzees born dies before reaching their first birthday, and this has a significant impact on overall average life expectancy. If calculated from birth, their life expectancy is 28.3 years."

Just as chimps can perish much earlier than expected, the great apes can live into their 50s and 60s. Earlier this year, the oldest chimpanzee in Japan died at age 68.

Scientists say their new research is a reminder that caretakers in Japan and elsewhere must be ready to care for most chimps for at least four decades.

"Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, long-lived creatures. Chimpanzees born today will be with us for the next 30-40 years or more, when researchers like us are at retirement age," said lead study author Satoshi Hirata. "It is vital to consider a future-oriented approach that transcends generations so we humans can fulfill our responsibilities to these chimpanzees."


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