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Chimpanzees & African Wild Dog

7th March 2019

Stumbling across a story last month about how some chimpanzees in Belfast zoo managed to escape by using a tree branch as a ladder, reminded me of just how intelligent these beautiful primates are, and how – as discovered by Jane Goodall in Gombe, Tanzania in the 1960’s, they’re so clever they use tools to benefit their survival. A fact that has again been reiterated by the Belfast chimps.

Chimpanzees are the most intelligent animals on earth after humans and are so closely related to us that we only differ in DNA by 1.5 %. Numbers have dwindled significantly since the 19th Century due to habitat loss, poaching and disease so it’s really important that we help them whilst still can, hence why this weeks’ workshop focussed on chimpanzees and another lesser known, but very sweet, endangered animal; the African wild dog.

We began by sketching a big chimpanzee which was subsequently named, Ryan, as you do, and the children and I chatted about how similar these primates are to humans particularly with relevance to their characteristics; large big toes, hands that can grasp and expressive faces. We also share similar behaviours in that, like us chimps laugh, show affection and walk upright. I asked the little ones why we were learning about them today and a number of children exclaimed, ‘because they’re endangered!’ and one little girl went onto say ‘they’re endangered like polar bears!’ She was one of the children who was quiet last week when we were learning about the Arctic, so it just goes to show that they are listening. ‘People are cutting down their trees where they live,’ a little boy shouted out. ‘They are indeed,’ I replied, and we went on to discuss how we could help; simply speaking up for wildlife can be one key way.

African wild dogs can run up to 44 miles per hour, as fast as their Mummy’s and Daddy’s cars; a fact that the children loved. None of them seemed to have heard of African wild dogs so understanding a bit more about them and why they’re endangered was positive. My favourite part of the morning, however, was when I heard a couple of boys chatting about how chimps are related to us. One boy explained to the other that, ‘it’s because they’re made of the same stuff as us, same make-up.’ A four-year-old was explaining to another four-year-old the beginnings of getting their heads around the idea of DNA. Whether he fully understood what he was saying or not, it was an utterly intriguing morning. For further information please visit

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