Chimpanzees are now officially considered an endangered species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and will be designated as such under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes after activist Jane Goodall, The Humane Society and other groups submitted a petition for the classification. The idea is to remove the distinction between captive chimpanzees, who were previously listed as threatened and their wild counterparts who are deemed endangered. The rules went into effect on June 16 and include a 90-day grace period, and won’t be enforced until September 16, 2016.
So, what does this mean for chimpanzees? First, it means that laws applying to wild chimpanzees, including their use for biomedical research, interstate trade and export and import, now requires a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It does not mean that people who currently own chimpanzees need a new permit or that people who have chimps in the entertainment industry need one. The previous distinction, though, did send a mixed signal to the public, indicating that chimpanzees are not in need of help, when in fact, their needs across the world are quite dire, according to Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“At the time we thought it was important to encourage breeding of captive chimps to expand their numbers,” said Mr. Ashe. “But we expanded a culture of treating these animals as a commodity for research, sale, import and export, and entertainment. That has undermined the conservation of chimpanzees in the wild.” In the early 1900’s, there were around a million chimpanzees in the wild. Widespread poaching and habitat loss has reduced their numbers to somewhere in between 172,000 and 300,000 worldwide, according to the Jane Goodall Institute.
One of the benefits of the distinction are new barriers for using chimps for biomedical research. There are currently 730 chimps in the custody of research facilities and now, any research that could harm or harass a chimpanzee will require a permit. A permit will also be needed to send blood or tissue samples from chimpanzees across state lines. Getting a permit will require proving that their research would be directly and substantially supporting of chimpanzees in the wild, Ashe said.
“This rule change will help put an end to the exploitation of chimpanzees and we are happy about that,” said Erika Fleury of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, a group of eight primate sanctuaries in the United States and Canada that cares for close to 600 chimpanzees and monkeys.