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For as long as I’ve been alive, wild chimpanzees have been “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Captive-born chimps, however, have only been classified under the lesser class of “threatened.”

Excerpts from Japan: Nogeyama Zoological Gardens, Yokohama, from Angie G.

Excerpts from Japan: Nogeyama Zoological Gardens, Yokohama, from Angie G.

Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), announced today that the loophole that exempted captive-bred chimpanzees from the full protections of the ESA may finally be closed. It’ll take some work, but it is a step in the right direction.

The distinction was put in place in 1990 for the purpose of those who registered with the FWS to legally import, export, re-import, sell and ‘take’ (including euthanize) their captive-bred apes as long as those activities ultimately showed an overall enhanced survival of the species. Those activities include scientific research, exhibition (a.k.a. show-biz apes) or holding and maintenance of ‘surplus’ apes. Ashe clarified that then,

“We wanted to encourage breeding of chimps at that time, believing at that time that providing additional animals in captive populations would reduce the incentive to remove animals from the wild.”

This proposal is not finalized yet. It will soon appear in the government’s Federal Register, after the public will have 60 days to comment. Ashe welcomes comments on how chimps are being used in medical research, entertainment, and other fields so that those activities can be governed by the ESA. The WFS looks also to work closely with the NIH and Association of Zoos & Aquariums as well as the biotech research community to see how the new proposal will affect their ongoing work. After the 60 day period ends, the agency will have about 12 months to write the final rules.

This redefinition is reminder to us about the plight of chimps in the wild. Chimpanzees continue to face habitat loss, encroaching human populations, poaching and diseases.

“We hope this proposal will ignite a renewed public interest in the status of chimpanzees in the wild as well as an appreciation for the wild things and the wild places that sustain us all.”

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