Who are the Great Apes? Discover the list

Some primates are called “Great Apes” or “Apes” in English. The difference between monkeys (monkey) and great apes (ape) is that the latter have no tail. So these great apes, who are they?

Monkeys without tails

The first characteristic of the great apes is their lack of tail. These primates also have other distinctions such as a more developed brain, more developed vision, a longer life expectancy and a longer childhood.

Family of Hominids

The great apes are part of the family of Hominidae which is separated into two lineages:

Homininés and Pongidae


Hylobatidae include siamangs and gibbons. They live in southern Asia in tropical forests. They move by arboreal locomotion thanks to their long arms and they hardly ever go down to the ground. They live with their families on a territory delimited by cries and sounds. There are 17 species of gibbons that are distinguished by their song and coat color.

The pongidae

These are the orangutans, also called “men of the forests” in Malay, which are found in Borneo or Sumatra in Southeast Asia. There are two species: the Bornean orangutan and the Sumatran orangutan.

Their red coat is characteristic of its primates. Orangutans are arboreal. They feed on fruits, young shoots, bark, leaves, and insects.

Males are differentiated from females by an adipose bulge on each side of the face, called a “facial disc”.

Males are solitary while females accompany their young until they are 7 or 8 years old.

The hominines
The Homininés include chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and of course … man! Apart from man, whose distribution is worldwide, the hominines live in the tropical forests of Africa.


Chimpanzees live in groups of 2 to 80 individuals headed by an adult male. They may divide into small subgroups for foraging. In the evening, individuals gather together and build a nest of leaves to sleep.

Omnivorous, they feed on fruits, plants, insects and small mammals. They can also hunt other small monkeys, mainly colobes.


Bonobos live in the tropical forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are known for their principle of “make love not war”. Indeed, sex replaces violence to resolve conflicts. The group of about ten individuals is led by females.

Bonobos are mainly frugivorous but they also consume some insects and small vertebrates.


The gorilla is the largest and most massive of all monkeys. It can weigh from 80 kg for females to 200 kg for males. Its impressive size is at the origin of its reputation of “brute”. However, it is a gentle animal and mainly vegetarian. It eats leaves but also fruits and sometimes insects.

There are two species: the West African gorilla and the East African gorilla.

Gorillas move on the ground. They build a nest of leaves every night. Gorillas live in groups of 2 to 30 individuals with an adult male at their head.

Great apes threatened with extinction

Great apes (except humans) are classified in Annex 1 of the IUCN Red List. The great apes could disappear by 2050.

The primary cause of extinction of great apes is the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat. Among these threats, there is logging with the cutting of exotic wood for the manufacture of furniture. There is also mining for oil, gas but also the extraction of coltan for the manufacture of smartphones. Finally, the increase of cultivated areas with oil palm plantations strongly reduces the tropical forests.

The second threat to the great apes is poaching, whether for bush meat or for baby trafficking.

The third cause responsible for their decline is their promiscuity with humans and the transmission of human diseases including the Ebola virus.

Taking action to protect great apes

Certain actions in our daily lives can have an impact on the survival of great apes halfway around the world. Simple gestures can be made to protect and save these genetically close primates. Indeed, we have more than 98% of genes in common with the chimpanzee.

Actions on a daily basis :

Avoid using or consuming palm oil: “surfactant” cleaning products and food containing “vegetable oil” or “palm oil”.
Buy certified paper or wood: the FSC logo guarantees that the wood comes from responsibly managed forests.
Vacation actions :

Do not eat bush meat.
Never take a picture with a monkey posing to entertain tourists.
Associative actions:

Many associations act for the protection of primates and it is possible to support them by helping them financially or by becoming a volunteer.