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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Chimp Defenders Fire Off|New Court Salvo

(CN) - Animal activists fighting the transfer of eight chimpanzees from Georgia to an unaccredited zoo in England brought a new federal complaint, this time seeking government records on the measure.

The Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta is sending its chimps packing in the wake of a June 2015 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that put captive chimps on the endangered species list with their wild counterparts.

For Yerkes, a research laboratory affiliated with Emory University, this new rule meant that its researchers would have to obtain a permit under the Endangered Species Act to continue working with its chimps.

Yerkes instead pink-slipped its primates.

Though some of its chimps are going to a sanctuary and an accredited zoo in the United States, wildlife groups filed suit in December because Yerkes promised eight to an unaccredited zoo in Kent, England, called Wingham Wildlife Park.

In addition to lacking accreditation, Wingham has also never housed, cared for or exhibited chimpanzees, according to the December complaint led by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society.

Wingham maintains that the chimps will love their new home "in the British countryside," but the society and its co-plaintiffs say the setting is not fit for Abby, Agatha, Faye, Tara, Elvira, Georgia, Lucas and Fritz.

The Britain-bound beasts all share grandparents, the complaint notes.

Rather than name either zoo as a defendant, the plaintiffs filed their action in December against the U.S. authorities set to approve the transfer - in this case, the Fish & Wildlife Service and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

FWS and Jewell are also both named as defendants to a new suit the society filed last week on behalf of the chimps, this time alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act.

"If the permit is granted - a decision that can be made as soon as Feb. 22, 2016 - this permit would be the first of its kind to be issued regarding the export of captive chimpanzees since the captive members of the chimpanzee species were officially listed as 'endangered' under the Endangered Species Act," the complaint states.

With comments on the permit application due by Feb. 22, the society contends that FWS has "failed in a timely manner" to release information that the society could use to prepare its remarks.

The New England Anti-Vivisection Society, founded in 1895, is dedicated to stopping the use of live animals in research and science education.

It advocates the retirement of research chimpanzees to sanctuaries "where they can live out the remainder of their lives in settings that mimic their natural habitats to the greatest extent possible."

The society says Yerkes might have lied in its application for a federal permit.

Though the zoo said both it and Wingham would be donating money to chimpanzee-conservation efforts, one of the outfits Yerkes mentioned says there is no such deal in place, according to the complaint.

The Kibale Chimpanzee Research Project has allegedly said it never agreed to take money from Wingham in connection to the Yerkes permit application.

Kibale is also apparently not happy about "being used as 'leverage' to obtain the requested permit," the complaint states.

Yerkes also told regulators that Wingham plans to breed the chimps in accordance with the European Species Survival Program (EEP), but the society says "Wingham is not a member of the EEP and the EEP 'does not support the proposed transfer.'"

The society's latest action, filed Friday in Washington, seeks correspondence between the FWS and permitting officer Tim Van Norman that is not available on the FWS website.

Van Norman "had been actively involved in arranging for Yerkes to give money to the Population & Sustainability Network as a means of obtaining the requested permit," according to the complaint.

The society noted that PSN is part of the Margaret Pyke Trust, which "deals primarily with educating women in underdeveloped countries about reproductive health and rights, and which has never done any work on chimpanzee conservation."

Katherine Meyer and Eric Glitzenstein with Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks are representing the society.

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on the new suit, neither Wingham nor Yerkes have returned requests for comment.

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