Formed in 1989, the Chimpanzee SSP is a group of dedicated professionals with five primary goals, click one to jump to a section below:









Research: The Science of Chimpanzees


The care of animals as complex as chimpanzees requires a sophisticated management strategy. Luckily, chimpanzees are among the most-studied animals in the world, and the SSP benefits from the wide range of behavioral research being conducted on wild and captive apes. But even with this vast array of information, there remain many unanswered questions that can help address issues of animal husbandry, wellbeing and the conservation of the species in the wild.

All research conducted with chimpanzees at AZA facilities should be reviewed by the Chimpanzee SSP.  If you are planning a study with zoo chimpanzees, please send a research proposal to the Chimpanzee SSP Chair, Steve Ross.  The management group will review your proposal and, if approved, will provide a letter of endorsement.  This letter can be used to facilitate participation of member zoos, but does not obligate participation or otherwise override individual institutional review.

The Chimpanzee SSP Research Advisor is Dr. Mollie Bloomsmith. Along with Dr. Bloomsmith, the SSP is supported by several other research scientists that help guide important scientific-based management principles, including Dr. Hani Freeman, an advisor specifically focused on studies of chimpanzee personality.

Possible future research topics

  • Developing nutritional guidelines for the aged chimpanzee and special needs chimpanzees, in addition to the general chimpanzee population
  • Personality research and investigation into how chimpanzee personality should be incorporated into management decisions, breeding decisions and promoting welfare.
  • Use of novel contraception methods (such as gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists) for efficacy, as well as for influence on aggressive and sociosexual behavior.
  • Develop information on a descriptive tool for evaluating the progress of introductions
  • Management of large social groups including managing aggression, modeling fission/fusion social organization in captivity, introductions of young, nursery-reared chimpanzees to large social groups, and the effects of reduced reproduction on parental behavior.
  • Promoting the psychological well-being of zoo-housed chimpanzees by evaluating the effects of zoo visitors on chimpanzee welfare, studying enrichment that is cognitively challenging, evaluating positive reinforcement training, and studying the effects of choice and control over the environment on chimpanzee well-being
  • Geriatric management of chimpanzees
  • Keeper emotions and the effects on chimpanzee behavior

Past studies

Multi-institutional study of adolescent male chimpanzees
Managing adolescent male chimpanzees, especially their aggressive behavior, is ones of the biggest challenges in the management of the zoo chimpanzee population. If zoos can manage young males through these difficult years, they often mature into sociably compatible adults. Thanks to generous funding by the Disney’s Conservation Endowment Fund (CEF), the Chimpanzee SSP initiated this collaborative research study in 2008 to gather information on the social behavior, hormonal status and wounding incidence of young male chimpanzees living in different social settings. Our findings will assist the SSP in better understanding and handling behavioral problems with adolescent males, improving the chimpanzee population management, as well as the welfare of individual chimpanzees.

Publication link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/zoo.20243/abstract

Contact Steve Ross for a reprint of the full article.


Education: Learning for and about chimpanzees

Teaching people about chimpanzees is one of the SSP's most important goals. Educational programs help build public awareness of the various issues facing captive and wild chimpanzee populations today. This website serves as one of our most powerful educational tools: please peruse the site and find out as much as you can about the Species Survival Plan and chimpanzees.

The Chimpanzee SSP Education Advisor is Nadine Kocanjer of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Nadine helps review proposed educational material for use by AZA facilities and organizes educational-based events for the SSP.

Past projects
Together with Lincoln Park Zoo’s ProjectChimpCARE, an interactive children’s iPad book entitled “Chimps Should be Chimps” was created to teach young people about the reality of chimpanzees used in the entertainment business.  Find out more about this book here and download a FREE copy via iTunes here.

Advocacy: Taking a stand

Unlike many exotic wildlife species, chimpanzees live in a far broader range of settings than just AZA accredited zoos.  There are hundreds of chimpanzees in the United States living in research laboratories and sanctuaries, as well as those that are privately-owned as pets or performers.  The Chimpanzee SSP believes that all chimpanzees, no matter where they live, deserve proper care and management.  This means the provision of complex social groupings, mother-rearing, and dynamic and safe enclosures.  Representatives of the Chimpanzee SSP have acted as nationally-recognized experts in chimpanzee behavior and welfare, and have spoken on behalf of chimpanzees to encourage policy change that will benefit the species.

Chimpanzees outside the SSP

Primates as pets
We believe that chimpanzees should never be owned as pets. Though cute and cuddly as youngsters, chimpanzees quickly grow to be strong, unmanageable and dangerous. Sadly even those with good intentions are forced to quickly find a new home for their pet chimpanzees and these difficult circumstances can lead to chimpanzees in suboptimal conditions.

Learn more about this issue

Read the AZA position statement.


Visit Project ChimpCARE for more information


Apes in entertainment
Chimpanzees are easily trained and as such, many are used for television programs, photographic props, motion pictures and advertisements. We believe the frivolous depiction of apes creates inaccurate perceptions of them as a sentient species and has a negative impact on the public's perception of their conservation status. Additionally, these chimpanzees are often raised in suboptimal conditions and deserve to be housed in more species-typical environments.

Learn more about this issue

Read the AZA position statement.

Visit Project ChimpCARE for more information


Conservation: For the Good of the Species


Chimpanzees living in the wild need our help.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified chimpanzees as Endangered. Increased logging throughout chimpanzee habitat creates a multifaceted problem. The logging itself causes habitat destruction and fragmentation which limits forest availability and disrupts the ecosystem. However, logging also leads to increased access to previously undisturbed areas. This tends to lead to increased commercial trade in bushmeat and disease transmission to chimpanzees and other primates. Besides logging, mining and oil extraction are serious threats to chimpanzees.

It is estimated that there were between 172,000 and 301,000 chimpanzees in 2003, but this number is likely much lower today. Although much of the chimpanzee population remains in protected areas, the effectiveness with which these areas are managed and monitored is constantly put into question.

The work of zoos is not complete unless a significant contribution to the conservation of wild animals is made. Dr. Elizabeth Lonsdorf has studied wild chimpanzees in Tanzania and provides her guidance to the SSP as our in situ advisor.

The Ape TAG Conservation Initiative
The Ape TAG Conservation Initiative represents a collective effort by zoos to help conserve wild populations of apes. Launched in early 2010, the primary aim of the Initiative is to increase the amount and duration of zoo support for ape conservation.

Specific goals include:

  • Provide multi-year support (minimum three years) for high priority ape populations and sites.
  • Increase the number of zoos contributing to the in situ conservation of apes.
  • Increase the presence of the zoo community in ape conservation.
  • Encourage law enforcement and in situ education through the support of sanctuaries.
  • Provide zoos with resources to convey ape conservation messages to the public and promote their support for in situ conservation.

Find out more about the AZA Ape TAG Conservation Initiative here

Husbandry: Caring for Chimpanzees


The care of chimpanzees is never easy with these complex and intelligent creatures. The challenge is to provide a safe and enriching physical habitat while maintaining complex social groupings. No easy feat but one that zoos and the SSP face every day.

The chimpanzees living in accredited zoos across North America are our primary charges. The SSP helps individual zoos keep informed with the latest techniques and management strategies for housing chimpanzees to optimize their wellbeing. Every two years, the Chimpanzee holds its Chimpanzee Care and Wellbeing workshop to help animal care professionals keep up with the latest trends in training, enrichment and animal management.

Animal Care Manual
Animal Care Manuals (ACMs) provide a compilation of animal care and management knowledge that has been gained from recognized species experts, including AZA Taxon Advisory Groups (TAGs), Species Survival Plan® Programs (SSPs), biologists, veterinarians, nutritionists, reproduction physiologists, behaviorists and researchers. ACMs present a compilation of knowledge provided by recognized animal experts based on the current science, practice, and technology of animal management. The manual assembles basic requirements, best practices, and animal care recommendations to maximize capacity for excellence in animal care and welfare.

The first edition of the Chimpanzee Care Manual was completed in 2010 and is available here.  Below are some of the primary tenants of chimpanzee care.

Social housing
We believe that all chimpanzees should be given the opportunity to live with other chimpanzees. Ideally and when facilities can support it, groups should be multi-male, multi-female and have a range of age-sex classes represented.

Infants should have every opportunity to be reared by their mother before any alternatives are attempted. Only in circumstances where the infant's health or wellbeing are in jeopardy, should hand-rearing be implemented. If this strategy is deemed necessary, infants should be placed back with their natal group as soon as it is deemed safe.

Water moats
We believe that new exhibits should avoid the use of water moats as a primary containment strategy for chimpanzees. Too many chimpanzees have died as a result of drowning and this risk should be avoided when renovated or constructing a new facility.


Exhibit Design

Expert design of artificial environments for captive chimpanzees is a difficult process but one which is tremendously important to advance the care of the species. As we learn more about the optimal housing of apes, exhibit designs evolve, and hopefully improve over time.  Here are links to the most recently completed chimpanzee exhibits in AZA

African Forest, Houston Zoo (2012)

Regenstein Center for African Apes Lincoln Park Zoo (2004)


Husbandry Workshop

The care of chimpanzees in AZA accredited zoos is primarily the responsibility of zookeepers across the country.  The promotion of progressive, high-quality care by these skilled professionals is the focus of the Chimpanzee SSP’s biennial husbandry workshop.

The next workshop is hosted by Houston Zoo on April 30-May 2.  Stay tuned for information on upcoming workshops in Detroit (2015) and Tampa Bay (2017). Click here for more information.