Can a 90-lb. chimp clobber a full-grown man?

In a recent column, (September 10, 1976), Cecil mentioned that keeping chimps as pets is a bad idea. I have heard myself that they can’t be kept once they reach adolescence, when their well-known propensity for aggression begins to show.

But what about Bonobos? From what I understand, they’re basically the hippies of the primate world, (aside from actual human hippies), and all about peace and love. Is there some other reason why Bonobos aren’t used instead of Chimpanzees?

Well, Bonobos are endangered , so there are fewer of them. Female adult Bonobos can get bitey. Sexual maturity causes problems in all primates.

Used as what? Pets? Bonobos are chimps. They are a species within the genus pan. They cannot become domesticated. They do become difficult to manage at sexual maturity and can become aggressive. They have the musculature to severely injure or kill a human being without too much effort. Apart from the ethical concerns, Bonobos won’t fully bond with a human being and become a passive little pet.

Humans also won’t bond and become passive little pets. And they become aggressive at sexual maturity. But we keep them around anyway.


The original asker of the question wrote: “I saw these big guys get in there with this monkey and get tossed right out.”

Just for the record, chimpanzees are not monkeys. They are apes, and there is a difference.

While Cecil did not say that chimps are monkeys, he also did not correct the erroneous notion. Just thought I’d do my part, 42 years later, to fight this particular bit of ignorance.

I’ve got to say, I’m doubtful about some of the details of the letter-writer’s story. I accept that a 90 lb. chimp is strong enough to pick up a full grown human, but I doubt they’d be able to get the leverage to pick up a man who significantly outweighs them and throw him out of a ring. Equal and opposite reactions and all that. Also, it’s hard to believe that a chimp could be trained so well that it would “wrestle” with a human until it got the cue to throw him, without mauling or otherwise seriously injuring the human.

On the other hand, I absolutely believe that a couple of ringers in the audience could be part of a kayfabe show. Still seems dangerous, but maybe not moreso than what what lion tamers do (or did - are there any carnivals or circuses left that still do these kinds of dangerous animal acts?)

Modern studies have found that adult chimps are roughly as strong as adult men. Pound for pound, they are much stronger than we are. 1.5 to 2xs as strong. A 100 lb. chimp is going to beat up a 100 lb. human any day of the week. Mike Tyson though in his prime would be more than a match for one. The superhuman strength of a chimp myth comes from studies in the 20s that seem flawed. As an aside, they are stronger than we are because they have more fast twitch muscle fibers. We have more slow twitch fibers. This means we have exceptional endurance (something that is well known. Humans are among the long-distance running champions of the animal kingdom. There is a theory that our earliest ancestors hunted game primarily by running after it on big open savannahs until it collapsed from exhaustion. Go us!), but we sacrificed strength. Oh well, can’t do everything well.

Yes, chimps are apes. Apes are large tailless monkeys. Therefore it is also correct to say that chimps are monkeys, just like it’s correct to say that they’re primates, mammals, tetrapods, vertebrates, chordates, deuterostomes, mammals, or eucaryotes, as well as a number of other categories in between.

There was a famous match between Louis Cyr at 5 feet, 8.5 inches, 365 pounds and a young Édouard Beaupré (only 7 feet, 8.1 inches, 362 pounds at the time). Cyr effortlessly won in short order. So being freakishly strong does seem to be an advantage in wrestling.

Monkeys are one category of primates; apes are another. They do not overlap. Since one of the defining characteristics of “monkey” is a tail, the term “tailless monkeys” is nonsensical.

There is no category of “monkeys” which does not include apes, because a chimp and a mandrill, for instance, are more closely related to each other than either is to a tamarin. Even the tailless monkeys don’t form a good category, because the Barbary ape’s closest relatives are tailed monkeys, not the Great Apes.

This at least is true, because (other) apes are exactly as much monkeys as we are.

I’m willing to be proven wrong. In fact, I’ve just learned that there are indeed some tailless monkeys, so I stand corrected on that point.

However, I have come across cite after cite after cite after cite that all say chimpanzees are not monkeys.

Can you produce one that says they are?

Here’s one.

On Joe Rogan’s podcast he was talking about when he was on that tv show one time they had a young chimp that was not even an adult. He said when it started hitting him on the back it felt stronger than a full grown man and he couldn’t believe a chimp that small was so strong. Chimps are scary man, they seem to favor going for people’s faces, eating their noses that sort of thing, biting fingers off and tearing off genitals is also a favorite.

Not the sort of thing I’d look for in a pet. I know some of their strength has been blown out of proportion but I think any full grown chimp would take on even the toughest MMA fighter or boxer alive and eat their face, rip off their nuts break several bones and rip their arms out of the sockets in less than a minute based on the accounts of chimp attacks I’ve read, I doubt Bonobos are any more of a good idea as a pet.

In the nested hierarchical system used for taxonomy all humans are apes, all apes are monkeys, all monkeys are primates, etc. The reverse doesn’t hold true. Not all primates are monkeys and not all monkeys are apes.

Other than pedantry, there is no real point in arguing that chimps aren’t monkeys. It is more specific - not necessarily more accurate - to refer to a chimp as an ape. Monkey is often used as a synonym to Simiiformes which includes new world monkeys, old world monkeys, and apes.

Like the never ending ‘poisonous snakes aren’t venomous snakes’ pedantry, as long as most people understand what you mean when you say it it’s correct from a linguistic point of view. But even from a scientific taxonomy point of view apes do belong to the larger group that includes monkeys.

Interesting. I went looking for evidence of this, and I found this article, which seems to make a quite convincing case, with some colorful charts and graphs and so forth. But then, toward the bottom, the author goes on to admit that he is using the word “monkey” as a synonym for “simiiformes” and that this is not a scientifcally recognized useage. He even links to a wikipedia page that defines simiiformes as an infraorder that includes “monkeys and apes.” But hey, monkeys are apes because a lot of people use the word as such, and then he uses a fictional character as a cite. Color me unconvinced.

Meanwhile, I’ve found web pages by the National Geographic Society, the Center for Great Apes, The Guardian, PBS, the Smithsonian, How Stuff Works, Encyclopedia Brittanica, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, and many, many others stating unequivocally that apes are NOT monkeys. I’m going to go with the consensus.

A chimp’s strength by itself wouldn’t scare me, but it’s aggression and tendency to use biting as a weapon most definitely would, particularly since they are known to maul faces. It also probably has faster reflexes and moves in ways that a human just wouldn’t be prepared for. Then there’s the simple unpredictable nature of its instincts, not being able to sense when it’s about to erupt.

Really, when you boil it down we’re all just sarcopterygians.

golf clap

Although chimpanzees do have significantly greater arm strength than a human of comparable mass (as would be expected of a anboreal brachiating animal) it is their penchant for aggression that makes them dangerously unsuitable as pets or servant animals. It is possible to learn to identify their body language to interpret when they may become aggressive, but while they look human-like in their facial expressions their psychology and what sets them off is sufficiently different that it is often not clear to the casual observer why or when a chimp may become aggressive. Keeping a chimp as a companion without understanding their motivations and the why their psychology and social interactions differ from that of a human is like keeping a wolf in your house.

And even if you do understand chimp behavior, they can still become aggressive or display aberrant behavior by virtue of the poor socialization they get by living with humans. Of course, most pet owners treat their animals as children, which is okay when it comes to domesticated species (which are neotenic by evolutionary ‘design’ to appeal to their owners) but not good when applied to a not-quite-human primate which can do great injury when it has a temper tantrum.


One of the perks of being the monkeys that we are is that we can believe whatever we want to believe. I would wager you also stop conversations when someone says “poisonous snake” to make sure everyone understands that what they really should say is “venomous snake.”

It’s great that you found a cite from a seemingly credible zoologist that supports what I wrote, but honestly it doesn’t matter much. Regardless of their view or your favored consensus view, the point remains: