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Captive Chimpanzees Receive Increased Federal Protection in Response to Legal Petition

New Endangered Species Act listing ends disparity that deprived captive chimps of much needed protection

Captive and wild chimpanzees are now listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The new listing from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in response to a 2010 legal petition by The Humane Society of the United States. Under the ESA, a permit for any activity that would involve harming, harassing, killing or the use of chimpanzees in interstate commerce is required.

Habitat loss and poaching, driven in part by the exploitation of captive chimpanzees, has led to a drop of more than 65 percent in populations of wild chimpanzees. The increased federal protection of captive chimpanzees is expected to curb the use of these intelligent, social animals in invasive biomedical research, interstate trade as pets and use by the entertainment industry.

The agency previously recognized wild chimpanzees as endangered, yet captive chimpanzees were deprived of such protection. This “split-listing,” enacted in 1990, has facilitated the exploitation of captive chimpanzees in the U.S. The new listing effectively ends the split-listing. 

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS said: “Combined with NIH’s decision two years ago to phase out the use of the vast majority of chimps in invasive experiments, today’s action signals a rather extraordinary commitment by this Administration to protect chimpanzees at home and abroad. These intelligent, beleaguered animals deserve these concerted, multi-pronged efforts to protect them.”

Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and U.N. Messenger of Peace, expressed her hope that this new rule will benefit wild chimpanzees and chimpanzees in captivity, stating:  “This change shows that many people are finally beginning to understand that it is not appropriate to subject our closest relatives to disrespectful, stressful or harmful procedures, whether as pets, in advertising or other forms of entertainment, or medical research.  That we are beginning to realize our responsibilities towards these sentient, sapient beings, and that the government is listening.”

The petition, which contained compelling scientific evidence in support of upgrading the status of captive chimpanzees, spurred an official FWS status review of chimpanzees under the ESA. The review eventually led to the 2013 proposed rule to protect all chimpanzees, which has now been finalized. As a result of the final listing, FWS will evaluate each permit application to determine whether the proposed action would promote conservation of the species, as required by the ESA.

The petition was filed by a diverse coalition of organizations applauding the agency’s final ruling. Coalition members include The HSUS, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Fund for Animals and Humane Society International. The project involved the generous support of the Arcus Foundation. The petition was prepared by lawyers with The HSUS's animal protection litigation section in consultation with the Washington public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

Media Contact: Samantha Miller 301-258-1466; smiller@humanesociety.org