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Why do my helpers and I continue to observe the chimpanzees at Gombe after nearly two decades? Partly because chimpanzees are fascinating creatures with advanced brains and complex behavior. Their life expectancy is probably between 40 and 50 years in the wild. The females give birth only once in five or six years (unless a baby dies, and then the mother usually conceives again within a few months). Also, there is such individual variation among them that a very long-term study is necessary if we are to understand their behavior.

Beyond all this, chimpanzees are more like humans than are any other living creatures. There is the hope that knowledge of their ways and habits may help us in understanding our own.

Physiological similarities, both biochemical and anatomical, between humans and chimpanzees are remarkable. The structure of the chimpanzee brain is amazingly close to our own. The chimpanzee life cycle is not very different from ours—five years of infancy, then a period of childhood, followed by adolescence from about 9 to 14 years. Old age sets in at about 35 years. As among humans, affectionate and supportive bonds between mothers and their children, and between siblings, may persist throughout life.

Chimpanzees use more objects as tools and for more purposes than any creatures except ourselves. They may show cooperation when hunting for food, and when a kill is made (usually a monkey, young bushbuck, or young bushpig), adults may share the prize with one another and with offspring. Friendly social gestures include holding hands, patting one another, embracing, and kissing. Those who have worked closely with chimpanzees agree that their emotions—pleasure, sadness, curiosity, alarm, rage—seem very similar to our own, though this is difficult to prove.

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