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New Protections for Captive Chimpanzees

Government restricts use in biomedical research, entertainment and the pet trade

by Karen E. Lange

Captive chimps in the U.S. will have increased protections from harmful practices under a new regulation that recognizes the conservation impacts of exploitation.

Until now, the U.S. government has treated chimpanzees—all members of the same species—very differently according to where they live. The estimated 172,000 to 300,000 chimpanzees still in African rainforests have been classified as endangered, while the 1,724 in captivity on this side of the Atlantic have been classified as merely threatened; a special rule allowed biomedical laboratories and the entertainment and pet industries in the U.S. to use these animals with no restrictions.

The new rule prohibits invasive research on the 733 chimps still in labs.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now classified captive chimps in the U.S. as endangered, a rule change that The HSUS, the Jane Goodall Institute and other animal groups petitioned for in 2010. Endangered status means anyone who wants to use chimps in the U.S. in harmful ways will have to show this will benefit the conservation of the species. They will have to go through a permitting process with public comment.

“It’s another barrier to using chimpanzees, providing momentum to our efforts to retire these animals” from research, says Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS chief counsel. “Hopefully, this sends a strong signal to not even attempt to use these animals.”

The new rule prohibits invasive research on the 733 chimps still in labs, including privately supported research and testing not affected by earlier government decisions to greatly limit funding for such studies, says Jennifer Ball, who works on chimpanzee issues for The HSUS. It should also curb the use of chimps as pets or for entertainment, particularly trade in animals across state lines.

“Their use in these industries is not only not helping to preserve the species in the wild, it’s hurting,” says Ball, adding that studies have shown people who see light-hearted depictions of chimps in ads, TV commercials and movies “don’t believe the species is endangered.”

Next step: creating more sanctuary space for the chimps who will presumably be retired. The HSUS has helped retire more than 100 federally owned animals from labs, but over 300 more, plus 400 privately owned chimpanzees, are still waiting for their turn.

Help us move more chimpanzees from labs to sanctuaries »

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