Conservation & environment

Who gets to name the chimps?

18 August 2019

A lot of our guests would like to know.

The honour actually goes to the Japanese researchers, and there is a very nice story to tell: when the Japanese arrived in Mahale in the 1962 they were welcomed by the Tongwe people, the local tribe having its origins in the the Democratic Republic of Congo but who came to Tanzania centuries ago. The Tongwe people have always lived peacefully with the chimpanzees, they never hunted them as they believed their ancestors would live on in the chimps.

The Japanese are continuing their research in Mahale.

The Japanese were very impressed by the hospitality of the Tongwe people and their knowledge about the chimpanzees. So they worked together on habituating the chimpanzees. As a sign of respect and gratefulness the Japanese started giving the habituated chimpanzees local names, like Gwekulo, Wakusi, Wakapompo or Fatuma.

Family tree of the M Community

The Tongwe people were a bit irritated thinking: why are they naming chimps after us? So they secretly started naming the chimps after the Japanese researchers, like Michio, Ikocha or Qanato. Imagine when Japanese found out about it, I am sure they all had good laugh about it!


The Japanese then decided that maybe it is better to just stick to random English names, like Darwin, Emory or Cristina.

Teddy grooming Nkombo, the oldest female in the group

Michio (named after researcher Michio Nakamura)

Some names are difficult to understand how they came to choose them, like Christmas (who was born in April), Phone or Gin... we leave it up to your imagination what the reason behind those names could be.

Phone, a very shy female.

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