September 1, 2011
Feds Set Stage for Critical Action to Help Chimps
We’ve heard countless sober warnings about the plight of the great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans.
Wild chimpanzees, for example, have declined in number by two-thirds in the last 30 years, and the prospects are becoming even more dire for them.
Our federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) has limited reach for species inhabiting other nations, but it is still a mightily important tool to contribute to their protection. And today, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has taken an important ESA-related step toward increased protection for these animals.
Since 1990, the FWS has recognized that wild chimpanzees are “endangered”; however, chimpanzees held in captivity in the United States (including in zoos, sanctuaries, biomedical research laboratories, and in private ownership) are deprived of all protections that threatened and endangered species are normally afforded.
There are an estimated 2,000 captive chimpanzees in the United States, and this regulatory loophole makes possible the use of chimpanzees for frivolous entertainment (such as those television commercials we see during the Super Bowl), invasive biomedical research, and as exotic pets. These uses involve abusive training techniques and intimidation to make chimpanzees perform on cue, social isolation, painful procedures, and premature and forcible separation of mothers and infants.
To address this glaring problem, The Humane Society of the United States and a diverse coalition of organizations submitted a legal petition last year to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, urging the agency to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the ESA. This would make the regulation of captive and wild chimpanzees consistent, and would reflect the true nature of the endangered status of the chimpanzee as a species. Today, the FWS published its initial finding in response to our petition, noting that the petition provides substantial information indicating that listing all chimpanzees as endangered may be warranted. The agency, therefore, is initiating a formal review of the status of the chimpanzee under the ESA and soliciting public comment on this issue.
The 150-page petition was filed by HSUS attorneys and Meyer, Glitzenstein, & Crystal on behalf of The HSUS, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, The Fund for Animals, Humane Society International, and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society. It includes declarations from a range of experts, including Dr. Jane Goodall. We provided compelling scientific and legal evidence that the current regulation facilitates exploitation of chimpanzees and has a significant negative impact on both wild and captive chimpanzees.
The lack of protection for captive chimpanzees not only doesn’t help conservation efforts, as required by the ESA, but actually fuels poaching and trafficking of wild chimpanzees, undermining conservation efforts. As one example, media depictions of young chimpanzees interacting with humans drive the global demand for pet chimpanzees. Studies demonstrate that these media depictions lead people to believe that chimpanzees in the wild aren’t endangered, which may lessen the public’s desire to support chimpanzee conservation.
What kind of message are we sending to the rest of the world if we allow continued trafficking and use of chimpanzees in the U.S., yet tell African range countries that they must do all that they can to protect the species from extinction? Please contact the Fish and Wildlife Service today to thank them for their examination of this issue and to express your support for increased protection of the chimpanzee under the Endangered Species Act.