The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal to protect all chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act. While wild chimpanzees have long been recognized as endangered, existing regulations deprive captive chimpanzees in the United States of protection under the ESA.
After considering a legal petition prepared by The Humane Society of the United States’ attorneys containing compelling scientific evidence in support of an upgraded status, the FWS has proposed to list all chimpanzees as endangered and make clear that such split-listings are not consistent with federal law.
A diverse coalition of organizations that petitioned FWS to take this action—including 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—applauded the agency's proposed rule.
Dr. Jane Goodall said on behalf of the coalition, "I thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its thorough scientific review of the chimpanzee's status and for the intention to protect chimpanzees from harm and exploitation regardless of whether they are in the wild or in captivity. This is an important step toward saving our closest living relatives from extinction."
The current disparity in federal protection of wild and captive chimpanzees has facilitated exploitation of captive chimpanzees in the pet and entertainment trade and in invasive biomedical research, activities that undermine efforts to conserve the species in the wild. The proposed rule would rectify this disparity and require future use of captive chimpanzees to positively benefit the survival of the species in the wild.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said: "Our closest living relatives are declining in number and they are in trouble. It's critical that the United States take forceful action to protect chimps in the wild and in captivity, in order to assure the survival of future generations of chimpanzees in their native habitats."
The enhanced listing status of captive chimps is expected to significantly reduce the use of chimps for entertainment, interstate trade as pets, and harmful biomedical research. Any use of chimps that would cause harm to the animals would require a permit and FWS would evaluate each permit application individually to determine whether the proposed action would promote conservation of the species, as required by the ESA.
The proposed rule will be subject to a 60-day public comment period.
- Populations of wild chimpanzees have fallen more than 65 percent in the last 30 years, primarily due to habitat loss and poaching, which is driven in part by U.S. exploitation of captive chimpanzees in the entertainment, pet, and biomedical industries.
- Multiple studies show that media depictions of chimpanzees, such as in Super Bowl ads, drive global demand for pet chimpanzees and decrease the public’s support for conservation efforts.
- In March 2010, a coalition of groups submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, urging the agency to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the ESA.
- In September 2011, the FWS announced that the petition presented sufficient scientific evidence to warrant review of the status of the species under the ESA and opened a public comment period during which numerous experts and more than 50,000 members of the public submitted favorable comments.
- A recent study by a committee of the National Academies' Institute of Medicine has also shown that nearly all biomedical research using chimpanzees is unnecessary—the committee did not identify a single area of research for which the use of chimpanzees is critical.
- In response to the IOM report, a National Institutes of Health committee recently recommended the NIH retire the majority of the more than 350 government-owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories to sanctuaries and substantially decrease the number of government-funded grants involving chimpanzees in laboratories.
- 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.
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