The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has formally announced a proposal to extend Endangered Species Act protections to captive chimpanzees in the U.S., which could mean big changes ahead for these great apes.
In 1990, wild chimpanzees were listed as endangered, but captive chimps remained listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and were listed in a special category that exempted them from ESA protections.
In response to a petition from seven conservation organizations submitted in 2010, the FWS determined that the ESA does not allow for captive and wild animals to hold separate legal statuses and cited an increase in threats to the species since the original listing that range from poaching and habitat loss to disease.
“Chimpanzees are one of the world’s most iconic species because of their connections and similarity to humans,” FWS Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. “Our hope is that this proposal will ignite renewed public interest in the status of chimpanzees in the wild.”
The proposed change would get rid of the special category that allows the continued commercial exploitation of chimps in the U.S. and make it harder for researchers to use them, and is also intended to reduce their use in entertainment, the pet trade and biomedical research.
According to the FWS, if the proposal is finalized, some activities would require a permit, “including import and export of chimpanzees into and out of the United States, ‘take’ (defined by the ESA as harm, harass, kill, injure, etc.) within the United States, and interstate and foreign commerce.”
When it comes to research, permits would only be issued for projects that are intended to directly benefit chimps, such as habitat restoration, researching wild chimps to contribute to improved management or recovery or studying diseases that specifically affect them.
However, there would be a mechanism in place for projects that do not directly benefit chimpanzees to be granted a permit via “enhancement.” According to the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), an institution could receive a permit to conduct a study involving captive chimpanzees in exchange for funding wild chimpanzee conservation efforts.
NAVS is also asking for greater clarification on how the rule will affect privately owned chimpanzees.
The proposed rule follows the Institute of Medicine’s report in 2011 that concluded most biomedical research involving chimpanzees is unnecessary and an announcement earlier this year from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) working group recommending all but 50 federally owned chimpanzees in labs be retired to sanctuaries.
The FWS stated that it will “work closely with the National Institutes of Health, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the biomedical research community, and other affected parties to consider the implications of this proposed rule on their operations.”
“This decision gives me hope that we truly have begun to understand that our attitudes toward treatment of our closest living relatives must change. I congratulate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for this very important decision,” said world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall in a statement.
Please submit a comment to the FWS and sign the petition urging the agency to increase protections for captive chimpanzees.
Photo credit: Thinkstock