Billy the Ape: The biggest chimpanzee ever?

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key point:

  • The Billy Apes are a group of chimpanzees that live in the remote Billy Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Billy apes are known for their large size, much larger than other chimpanzees. Their average height was measured at 4.9 feet and their weight was as high as 220 pounds.
  • Billy apes are recognized as one of the largest chimpanzee populations in the world and are considered a distinct subspecies of the common chimpanzee.

Humans' closest living relatives are chimpanzees, and our two species share about 99% of our DNA. Looking at chimpanzees, we can learn how similar our two species are.

Chimpanzees belong to the order Primates, estimated to have more than 375 members. There are 4 species of great apes, including chimpanzees. Gorillas, orangutans, and humans are also members of the great apes, or hominid family.

Chimpanzees are unique creatures whose lifestyle is somewhat similar to ours. Black hair covers their bodies, and they have a humanoid structure. One of the few animals with opposable thumbs and human-like features, strength far greater than our own. On average, chimpanzees are very strong, on average 1.5 times stronger than humans.

Most chimpanzees are on average smaller than humans, but some have been reported to be as large as smaller gorillas — most notably the billy ape. How big can chimpanzees grow?

How big is Billy the Ape?

Let's take a closer look at what has been reported about Billy the Ape, reportedly the largest chimpanzee that ever lived and often referred to as the lion-killer chimpanzee!

how big is a chimpanzee

chimpanzee lifespan baby chimpanzee
The upper limit of the average weight range for male chimpanzees is 176 pounds.


When standing upright, chimpanzees are about 3.3 to 5.6 feet (1 to 1.7 meters) tall. Chimpanzees walk on all fours most of the time because they have long arms and short legs. Male chimpanzees are bigger and stronger than female chimpanzees. The chimpanzee hierarchy usually places the larger males at the top. At 6 feet tall, the male billy ape reigns supreme!

Males weigh between 74 and 154 pounds (34 and 70 kilograms), while females weigh between 57.3 and 110 pounds (26 and 50 kilograms). In captivity, chimpanzees can get bigger because they eat more and move less. Captive males can weigh up to 176 lb (80 kg) and females up to 149 lb (68 kg).

Is "The Lion Killer" Billy the Ape the World's Largest Chimpanzee?

Largest Chimpanzee - Alpha Male Chimpanzee
Alpha male chimpanzees can be very strong.

© Darren Hopping-Mills/

Many sources will claim that the Billy the Ape was the largest chimpanzee, but this is a disputed claim. Let's dig a little deeper into why "The Lion Killer" Billy the Ape has been the source of so much controversy.

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Larger chimpanzees (with gorilla-like qualities) live deep in the jungle near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, reports from deep in the Congolese jungle. Chimpanzees from this area are known as "Billy apes".

Billy apes also howl at the moon, build nests like gorillas, prey on predators like leopards (and possibly even lions), and can outgrow other chimpanzees, tribal sources said. Billy the Ape is reported to be the world's largest chimpanzee at a whopping 6ft tall.

Interest in birbys has led to several expeditions to monitor them. Cleve Hicks, a primatologist who has led expeditions into the jungle many times, discovered that billy apes are not a distinct subspecies of chimpanzee and that many things about their behavior, such as howling at the moon All claims are exaggerated.

However, chimpanzee populations in the region have some unique aspects that may stem from their remoteness from human populations. DNA tests have shown that billy apes belong to the same subspecies as other apes in central Africa, so it is unlikely that they were much larger than other chimpanzees. However, there is still a lot to learn about these distant great apes!

Chimpanzees compared to other great apes

Gorillas, chimpanzees, humans, and orangutans are all members of the family Homo. The gorillas are the largest of the great apes, while the bonobos, which are closely related to chimpanzees, are the smallest. In addition to humans, each genus of apes has different species and subspecies. Both gorillas and chimpanzees live in Africa, while orangutans live in Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia.

Gorillas are the strongest and largest of all primates. The size of gorillas depends on the species, with the eastern lowland gorilla being the largest. Chimpanzees are smaller than humans, but stronger and more muscular. All primates are omnivores, but their diets are mostly plant-based.

For example, chimpanzees eat 90% of plant matter. Only 6 percent of their diet came from animal products, while 4 percent came from insects. Gorillas eat more plants and occasionally termites to supplement their diet.

Orangutans are bigger and stronger compared to chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are even more ferocious and are one of the most dangerous species of apes. In the wild, some chimpanzees have been known to go to war and attack each other for territory.

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On rare occasions, chimpanzees have been seen attacking gorillas for no reason. The loss of habitat for both species is believed to have caused chimpanzees to become more territorial.

Where do chimpanzees live?

Chimpanzees are among our closest living relatives and can be found in the wild in many African countries. They are mainly found in the tropical rainforests and savannas of Central and West Africa.

In the wild, chimpanzees can be found in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. They are known to inhabit a variety of habitats, including tropical forests, savannas, and mountains.

One of the largest wild populations of chimpanzees has been found in the Thai National Park in Côte d'Ivoire. The park is considered one of the most important sites for the conservation of chimpanzees, as it is home to a large number of different primates.

Chimpanzees are also found in many reserves and national parks, where they are protected from habitat destruction and hunting. Some of these protected areas include Gombe River National Park in Tanzania, Mount Mahale National Park in Tanzania and Kibale National Park in Uganda.

chimpanzee hierarchy

Aggressive Animals: Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees will go to "war" to defend their territory.

© Afandi Teguh Afriyanto/

In the chimpanzee hierarchy, the strongest chimps help lead the group. The male chimpanzee who runs the group, known as the alpha, is at the top.

Alphas are above other males and get to that position through strength or benevolence. Stronger chimpanzees can get into the lead through intimidation, but bonding and helping other chimpanzees is also a way to gain status.

Chimpanzee hierarchies are critical to maintaining a group's survival. The alpha chimpanzee's role is to patrol and breed with the lead female. Strong chimpanzees are preferred because other chimpanzees always find ways to get to the top.

Chimpanzee social groups mirror the way humans interact with the world. Different groups of chimpanzees fight each other for territory and mating rights. War is one of the reasons stronger and larger chimpanzees prefer alpha spots and gain breeding rights.

Alpha females also exist and have food and reproductive rights. Alpha females gain status through social interaction and are very likely to have high status offspring.

The decline of chimpanzees

Animal Profile: Chimpanzee
Humans and chimpanzees share 95% to 98% of their DNA.

© Lili Aini/

Habitat loss, disease and poaching are some of the reasons chimpanzees are on the brink of extinction. They also have a reproductive rate similar to humans, with a gestation period of up to 8 months. Chimpanzees are also more likely to go to war for territory as habitat loss intensifies.

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There are between 170,000 and 300,000 chimpanzees left in the wild, and in three decades they could be extinct. Laws and institutions have been put in place to predict chimpanzee populations and the habitats they live in. Limiting visitors to the area and further studying the chimpanzees helps in an attempt to protect the few that remain.

They are among the species that best describe our evolutionary history, and the future of chimpanzees is in our hands.

largest extinct ape

Gigantopithecus blacki was the largest ape that ever lived. It is now extinct and lived in China, India and Vietnam about 300,000 to 1 million years ago. The giant stood 9.8 feet (3 meters) tall and weighed about 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms). Like gorillas today, this species was primarily a herbivore.

Climate change is responsible for the extinction of this species, as its size became a hindrance. Many great apes are endangered today, and protecting their species helps prevent them from ending like this ancient giant.

billy ape behavior

According to many animal experts, great apes behave more like gorillas than chimpanzees. For example, they like to build nests on the ground like gorillas. They will use intertwined branches and saplings and bend them forward or downward into a central bowl.

They also like to nest in trees. Ground nests are often found under or around tree nests. A billy ape's diet consists of fruit or fruit trees, such as figs.

When confronted with humans, not only will they approach them, but they will show a general interest in them. They may come face to face with you, stare at you intently, and walk away. Usually not fearful or aggressive like many other primates. For example, male gorillas always charge when they encounter humans.

Although if spotted in the wild, it's best to remove yourself from the situation and leave the animal alone. These mammals have also been known to avoid contact with humans.


Check out these great articles on great apes:

  • Apes and Monkeys: Same or Different?
  • Apes vs Gorillas: Key Differences Explained
  • Monkeys vs. Apes: 5 Key Differences


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