There are a small number of animal species, commonly known as "apes", classified into the family Pongidae
This includes 3 genera and 4 living species. These are:
- the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus),
- orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), and
- gorilla (Gorilla gorilla).
Some taxonomists group this family and Humans (Homo sapiens) together into the Hominidae family.
These are the largest of the primates, ranging in weight from 30 kg (Bonobo, Pan panscus) to 180kg (Gorilla gorilla). All members of this family have no tail, are sexually dimporphic, have single young births, a long post weaning phase and long times to sexual maturity. All Hominidae except humans are in danger of extinction.
The two species of chimpanzee live in Central Africa. They occupy habitats such as deciduous and humid forests and wet savannahs. They are mainly herbivorous, with the majority of their diet consisting of fruits, leaves, nuts, seeds and tubors. However, they do supplement their diet with insects and smaller vertebrates and incidents have been recorded of chimpanzees hunting colobus monkeys in groups for meat. Chimpanzees have also been witnessed using fashioning tools to get food. They are both terrestrial and arboreal and usually live in groups of more than 20 individuals.
Orangutans occur in lowland and hilly tropical rainforests of the Asian islands of Bornea and Sumatra. There are two species of orangutan, Pongo abelii (Sumatran orangutan) and Pongo pygmaeaus (Bornea orangutan). They occupy a range of forest types including lowland forests, swamp forests, riparian forests and mountainous forests. orangutans are highly arboreal with extremely long forelimbs and as with the Hylobatids, they use brachiation locomotion. Fruit makes up over half of an orangutan’s diet, they also eat leaves, shoots, bark, insects and occasionally bird eggs.
Gorillas are the largest of the primates. They occur in tropical rainforests both in East and West Africa. These populations are geographically isolated and are recognised as separate species: the Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and the Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla). They inhabit forests ranging in elevation from low-lying forests of the Camaroon to mountainous forests at 3000m altitude.
The Gorillas of East Africa feed mainly on leaves and stems, but the West African Gorillas’ diet consists mainly of fruit. They are primarily ground-dwelling, however lowland gorillas will climb high into trees to get food. Like the orangutans, Gorillas have much longer forelimbs, which they use to walk in a quadrapedal motion. Gorillas live in groups of between 5 and 30 individuals, usually consisting of one dominant male (the silverback), females, adolescents and young. As the male Gorillas age, the hair on their back turns grey, giving them the name “silverback”.