Nonprofit Push Helps Boost Chimpanzee Protections

After receiving a proposal from a coalition of conservation groups and associations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking into increasing legal protections for captive chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees may be commonly used in commercials and TV shows, but  a new proposal from a federal agency could change that for good—along with the protected status of chimpanzees in captivity.

It didn’t happen overnight. More on the role that associations and nonprofits took in the proccess:

The Backstory

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition from a coalition of nonprofits [PDF]—including the Jane Goodall Institute, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Fund for Animals, and the Humane Society of the United States—asking the agency to increase protection for captive chimpanzees by upgrading them from “threatened” to “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Wild chimpanzees are already classified as endangered.

The change would mean that certain activities would require a permit, including engaging in foreign or interstate commerce involving the animals.

In particular, the petition takes issue with the practice of keeping chimpanzees as pets and the common use of the animals in entertainment.

“Multiple studies confirm that when people see chimpanzees portrayed in these unnatural entertainment depictions, they acquire misperceptions of the species that undermine legitimate conservation efforts by fueling demand for pet chimpanzees and reinforcing negative conservation attitudes,” the petition notes.

The Proposal

The petition led to a review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which last week proposed the classification change the coalition is asking for. In announcing the proposal, the agency noted the increased threat from disease, habitat loss, and poaching the animals have faced since 1990.

After a review of past rulings on the status of captive chimps, the agency “found that the ESA does not allow for captive-held animals to be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts on the basis of their captive state,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe wrote in a blog last week. “That’s why today we are proposing to list all chimpanzees as one entity as endangered. If this rule is finalized as proposed, the ESA’s full protections would be extended to the captive chimpanzees in the United States as well as their wild cousins.”

The proposal will be open for public comment over the next 60 days.

The reaction

Groups involved in filing the petition were pleased with the proposed change extending further protection to chimps.

The Fund for Animals, which works with the Humane Society on anticruelty efforts, praised the move, calling it “an important step in our campaign to stop abuse of our closest living relatives.”

Anthropologist Jane Goodall, a longtime activist for the protection of the species, told The New York Times: “What the chimpanzee has done is to prove there is no hard and fast line dividing us from the rest of the animal kingdom. That’s the greatest gift the chimpanzee has given those of us who care about animal welfare.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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