Court Defeat for Britain-Bound Chimps

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Dashing the hopes of animal-rights advocates, a federal judge refused to stop the exportation of eight endangered chimpanzees to an unaccredited British zoo.
     The court battle erupted late last year when the Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta announced that all of its chimps needed new homes.
     Six months earlier, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had announced that captive chimps would join their wild counterparts on the endangered species list.
     The practical effect for Yerkes, a research laboratory affiliated with Emory University, meant that it would need a permit under the Endangered Species Act to continue working with its captive chimps
     Yerkes found homes for some of its chimps at a sanctuary and an accredited zoo in the United States, but the underlying lawsuit sprang out of its plan to send Agatha, Fritz and six other chimpanzees to an unaccredited zoo in Kent, England, called Wingham Wildlife Park.
     Rather than sue the lab or the zoos, though, the six objecting wildlife groups took aim at Fish and Wildlife. They were joined by two women who cared for some of the chimps at Yerkes.
     It was Fish and Wildlife that authorized the export of the chimpanzees, having first required Yekes to donate $45,000 over five years to the Population & Sustainability Network, a UK-based conservation group.
     U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson granted the government partial summary judgment Wednesday, saying the objectors failed to show that Fish and Wildlife is responsible for a concrete injury that is actual or imminent, and that is possible for the court to redress.
     Though the activists note that that Wingham is not accredited by either the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria or the British & Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the judge dismissed this concern in a footnote.
     “This dispute of fact regarding Wingham’s standards and capabilities need not be resolved because, regardless, alleged harm to an animal, in and of itself, is not a sufficient injury to support a legal action in federal court,” he wrote.
     Among the plaintiffs, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society opposes animal testing and has long fought for the release of captive chimps to U.S. sanctuaries. It wanted the same for the Yekes research chimps.
     But the 59-page ruling says the society’s legal arguments amount to ideological, moral and ethical opposition, none of which will hamper the organization’s ability to carry out its work.
     “Indeed, the testimony that plaintiffs have offered comes nowhere close to specifying how the permit interferes with NEAVS’s ability to do its job — e.g., how, due to this particular government action, the organization is prevented from advocating for the transfer of laboratory animals to sanctuaries,” Jackson wrote, abbreviating New England Anti-Vivisection Society.
     Standing in the case required more than “sincere and strong objection” to the issuing of the permit, Jackson said.
     Rather than asserting actual injury, the caretakers said they would suffer harm from being unable to easily visit the primates, or from having to see them in what they perceive as subpar, inhumane conditions at the British zoo.
     Jackson said this “dashed-hopes” argument holds little water.
     “It is not at all clear that being saddened by the knowledge that an animal you love but with which you have no present contact may be sent to a place in which it will potentially be mistreated — as opposed to seeing such an animal in that condition—qualifies an aesthetic harm,” the ruling states.
     Animal-rights advocates require more than hurt feelings to have Article III standing in federal court, Jackson concluded.
     “This court views any injury to these plaintiff’s personal and aesthetic sensibilities from seeing the chimpanzees in the Wingham facility as self-inflicted at its core,” Jackson said.
     “Plaintiffs’ dashed-hopes theory is not a cognizable injury in fact, the individual plaintiffs’ alleged aesthetic injury has not been shown to be sufficiently imminent, and that, in any event, neither of these harms is fairly traceable to the permitting decision the individual plaintiffs seek to challenge. Thus, Plaintiffs have offered no persuasive reason that the individual plaintiffs have standing to attack the Yerkes export permit in federal court.”
     The chimpanzees will likely be exported to the zoo before the Nov. 1, 2016, permit expires.
     The ruling also notes that Fish & Wildlife credited Yerkes’ claims that its transfer of the chimps would “enhance the survival of the species.”
     The chimps are named Abby, Agatha, Faye, Tara, Elvira, Georgia, Lucas and Fritz.
     Their defenders are also accusing Fish & Wildlife of violating the Freedom of Information Act. Brown noted these claims are still pending.

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