And that’s actually good news!
As of yesterday, all chimpanzees in the U.S. are now classified as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
That wasn’t always the case. In 1990, wild chimpanzees were classified as fully “endangered” under the ESA and entitled to full protection under the law. But captive chimps—in the U.S. alone—were categorized as merely “threatened.” Because captive chimps were relegated to a lower conservation status, it was possible to transport them across state lines for commercial purposes, sell them as pets, and use them in research facilities with a relatively low burden of paperwork. That was very convenient for some people.
But this “split-listing” was going to come to an end on September 14, according to a press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this past June:
“Certain activities involving chimpanzees will be prohibited without a permit, including import and export of the animals into and out of the United States, ‘take’ (defined by the ESA as harm, harass, kill, injure, etc.) within the United States, and interstate and foreign commerce.
“Permits will be issued for these activities only for scientific purposes that benefit the species in the wild, or to enhance the propagation or survival of chimpanzees, including habitat restoration and research on chimpanzees in the wild that contributes to improved management and recovery.”
Until this new regulation took effect, the U.S. was the only developed nation that was conducting research on chimpanzees. However, according to news reports, no researchers have requested the necessary new permits to allow experiments to continue, meaning that chimp experimentation is essentially coming to an end.
The National Institutes of Health intends to hold on to a colony of 50 chimps for future research (“just in case”), but the remaining 750 or so captive chimps in U.S. labs and entertainment venues will hopefully soon find new homes in proper sanctuaries, where their own needs will be foremost.
The USFWS decided to increase protections for chimpanzees because threats to the species have only intensified since 1990. Wild chimps are subject to habitat loss, poaching, and the pressure of encroachment by adjacent human populations. Chimpanzees, like humans, are relatively slow to reproduce, so that it is difficult for wild populations to recover their numbers after an assault. Classifying certain chimps as “threatened” and allowing them to be abused for profit only perpetuated the myth that there were “plenty” of chimps to go around.
Let’s consider that myth “busted.”