The primate superfamily Hominoidea contains two families of species, all of which are classified as apes. Aside from humans, the four species in the Hominidae family -- bonobos, gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans -- are known as the great apes. Gibbons, the “lesser apes,” make up the Hylobatidae family. All apes live in Africa and southeast Asia, although specific habitat and geographic range vary among the species.
The bonobo (Pan paniscus) has the smallest geographic range of any of the great apes. In the same genus as the broader-ranging chimpanzee, this great ape lives solely in the tropical and subtropical forests of the Congo River basin in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most bonobos live in Salonga National Park, a reserve created specifically to protect these primates. The highly social bonobo communes in large groups of as many as 120 individuals, and spends much of its time in the forest’s canopy foraging for food.
Between 5 feet and 6 feet tall, and weighing between 350 and 400 pounds, the gorilla is the largest of all the great apes. Two species of gorilla, the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), live in equatorial Africa. Each species includes mountain and lowland subspecies. Mountain gorillas live in montane and bamboo forests 5,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level, while lowland gorillas inhabit tropical forests. African countries with gorilla populations include Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda.
The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) live in African savanna woodlands and tropical forests from sea level to 10,000 feet in elevation. The species has been divided into four subspecies based on the geographic ranges of each. The central chimpanzee lives primarily in Cameroon, Congo and Gabon, with isolated populations in Angola, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria. Patchy populations of the western chimpanzee live in the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra-Leone. The eastern chimpanzee is found near the Ubangi and Congo rivers in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and western parts of Tanzania and Uganda. Nigeria and Cameroon are home to the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee.
Unlike the other great apes, orangutans live in southeast Asia, where they are the largest and rarest Asian apes. The average adult male orangutan is between 4 and 5 feet tall, and weighs between 175 and 200 pounds. Two subspecies of orangutan, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), live in the moist tropical forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. Both subspecies prefer lowland areas, primarily river valleys and floodplains.
Thirteen species make up the Hylobatidae family of gibbons, also called lesser apes. Gibbons are the smallest of all apes, spending most of their time in the forest canopy, traveling by swinging with their long arms from branch to branch. The average adult gibbon is 3 feet tall and weighs between 12 and 20 pounds. Gibbon populations live in the tropical and subtropical rainforests of Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.