Can Chimpanzees Swim? An In-Depth Look at Chimp Water Activities

Many animals in the wild have adapted to swimming as a means of survival, foraging, and even enjoyment. From the swift stroke of a dolphin to the dog-paddle of your household pet, swimming is a widespread skill among various species. However, when it comes to primates, especially our close relatives, chimpanzees, there’s a common belief that they cannot handle water well. Some people think that because of their dense muscles and similar body structure to humans, chimpanzees would naturally swim, but this is not always true. As we explore this topic, we tackle the primary query that many have asked: Can chimpanzees swim? The simple answer is, most chimpanzees do not swim, primarily due to their body structure and lack of natural inclination towards water.

Chimpanzee Physical Characteristics and Swimming

Chimpanzees are strong animals with bodies built for climbing and living in trees. Their muscles are dense and powerful, which is great for their life high above the ground. However, this same muscle structure that helps them swing from branch to branch doesn’t do them much good in water. Muscles that are heavier than fat make it hard for chimps to float. Unlike humans, who can learn to stay buoyant with some effort, chimpanzees tend to sink more easily because of their muscle-to-fat ratio.

Musculature and Body Density

Chimpanzees have less body fat compared to humans. Body fat helps with floating because it is less dense than water. Since chimps have more muscle than fat, they are denser than water, which makes it challenging for them to stay afloat. Swimming requires buoyancy to keep the body on the water’s surface, but the physical makeup of a chimpanzee is not designed for this kind of task.

Limb Structure and Movement

The limbs of a chimpanzee are another reason swimming doesn’t come naturally to them. Their long arms and short legs are perfect for moving in trees, but in water, this limb structure is not efficient for swimming strokes. For example, the dog paddle, a simple swimming stroke for humans and canines, requires a different limb motion that chimps are not built to perform effectively. Furthermore, their hands and feet are not webbed, which is a feature that helps other animals push water behind them to move forward. Without these swimming-friendly adaptations, chimps find it hard to move through water.

Comparing Chimpanzees to Other Animals That Swim

In the animal kingdom, many creatures are natural swimmers. Fish glide through the water, frogs leap and paddle effortlessly, and ducks float and move with ease. These animals have bodies that are made for water; they have fins, webbed feet, or lightweight bones that help them swim well.

Animals with Natural Swimming Abilities

For instance, fish have fins that act like paddles, making it easy for them to push water aside and move forward. Frogs have long, strong legs with webbed feet, which they use to kick water behind them and swim. Ducks have waterproof feathers and their own kind of webbed feet, which makes floating simple and swimming a relaxing activity for them.

Differences with Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees, on the other hand, are a whole different story. They don’t have fins or webbed feet. Their heavy muscles work against them in the water, making it hard to float or move gracefully. Fish, frogs, and ducks have lightweight or buoyant bodies that make swimming natural, but the body of a chimpanzee is heavy and not meant for water. These differences are important because they show why most chimpanzees are not swimmers.

Chimpanzees’ Interaction with Water

Chimpanzees, despite their lack of natural swimming ability, do interact with water in various ways, both in the wild and in captivity. Their relationship with water is complex and influenced by the environment and their individual experiences.

In the Wild

In their natural habitats, chimpanzees are occasionally seen wading through shallow bodies of water. They might cross streams or stand in water to cool off on a hot day or to reach food, like fruits hanging over the water or aquatic plants. They are cautious, though, and keep to the shallow parts where they can stand comfortably without having to swim. This behavior shows that while they don’t swim, they still know how to use water to their advantage when it’s safe to do so.

In Captivity

In zoos and sanctuaries, chimpanzees might show different behaviors with water. Since they are often provided with pools or moats for environmental enrichment, they get to explore and interact with water more regularly. But even then, they typically don’t swim. Instead, they might play at the water’s edge, use sticks to play with water, or dip their hands and feet. Some chimpanzees might even be seen splashing water for fun or drinking directly from a stream or pool. These interactions are monitored carefully to ensure the safety of the chimps, considering their limited swimming skills.

Caregivers in these environments often use water-based enrichment activities to engage the chimpanzees’ curiosity and provide exercise. However, they always ensure that there is no risk of drowning by keeping the water shallow and offering easy exit routes. Watching chimps interact with water in captivity shows us how they can learn about their environment and find ways to enjoy water without having to swim.


To revisit our main question: Can chimpanzees swim? Chimpanzees do not typically swim and are not naturally equipped for swimming, due to their physical characteristics and natural behaviors. They can, however, enjoy water in safe, shallow settings, demonstrating a fascinating aspect of their interaction with the environment. This insight into chimpanzees’ abilities and behaviors enriches our understanding of these remarkable creatures and their place in the natural world.

Can Chimpanzees Swim? – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are chimpanzees good at swimming?

Chimpanzees usually do not swim. Their body structure is not made for swimming. They have heavy muscles which make it hard for them to float in water.

Will chimps swim just for fun?

Chimps don’t swim for fun. They are not naturally drawn to water like some animals. They often avoid water and don’t play in it like humans might do in a pool.