WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that all chimpanzees, whether wild or captive, will now be classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Captive chimps were previously classified as threatened under the ESA and subject to exceptions allowing “take,” or harm, under certain circumstances. The endangered status does not permit those blanket take exemptions. Now, any activity that could harm or kill chimpanzees, or any interstate commerce involving chimpanzees, will require a permit from the agency.
“Extending captive chimpanzees the protections afforded their endangered cousins in the wild will ensure humane treatment and restrict commercial activities under the Endangered Species Act,” Fish and Wildlife’s Director Dan Ashe said. “The decision responds to growing threats to the species and aligns the chimpanzee’s status with existing legal requirements. Meanwhile, we will continue to work with range states to ensure the continued survival and recovery of chimpanzees in the wild.”
The rule change is the agency’s response to a 2010 petition jointly filed by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal on behalf of The Humane Society of the United States, the American Association of Zoological Parks 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. The petition raised the question of the different status classifications, endangered or threatened, for wild and captive animals within the same species.
The example of the separate chimpanzee listings was heavily referenced and contested during the agency’s concurrent consideration of two 2010 petitions from US-based hunt clubs to delist captive herds of three endangered African antelope species, in which Fish and Wildlife determined that separate status listings were not appropriate. That decision was later upheld by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, but the fight over the status of the captive antelopes is still unresolved.
However, the agency states in this new rule that it finds the ESA “does not allow for captive chimpanzees to be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts on the basis of their captive state, including through designation as a separate distinct population segment. It is also not possible to separate out captive chimpanzees for different legal status under the Act by other approaches.”
Ultimately, the fates of wild and captive animals of the same species are intertwined. “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 US Humane Society said in their response to the new rule.
Fish and Wildlife states that permits will be required for import or export of the animals, and for any activity that would harm or kill them, but that permits would be issued only for scientific purposes that benefit the species, such as habitat restoration or research that improves recovery efforts.
However, the agency also promises that it “will work closely with the biomedical research community to permit biomedical research that must use chimpanzees as research subjects.”
“Combined with [the National Institute of Health’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,” Humane Society of the US’ president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said.
The final rule is scheduled to be published June 16, and slated to go into effect 90 days after publication, on Sept. 14.
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