By John R. Platt
A long-in-place loophole that exempted captive-bred chimpanzees from the full protections of the Endangered Species Act may finally be closed, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), announced on June 11. For decades now, wild-born chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have been classified as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Captive-born chimps, on the other hand, have only been classified under the lesser category of “threatened.” Chimpanzees have been the only species with this “split list” status, which afforded the captive-bred apes significantly lower protections, as I wrote in September 2011:
…this [split listing] means “people who register with FWS can legally export, reimport, sell and ‘take’ (including euthanize) their captive-bred apes as long as those activities enhance the survival of the species.” Those activities include scientific research, exhibition (this applies to show-biz chimpanzees) or “holding and maintenance of ‘surplus’ apes (meaning those not immediately needed for scientific research or breeding).” The “threatened” designation also means that people can import, export or sell great apes with an FWS permit.
The federal wildlife agency has now proposed changing this longstanding policy. “If this rule is finalized as proposed, the ESA protections will be extended to captive chimpanzees in the U.S.,” Ashe said during a press call on Tuesday. This would not end private ownership of chimps—an estimated 2,000 chimpanzees are in private hands in this country, including those in zoos and medical research facilities—but it would add what Ashe characterized as “important and significant protections” for any captive apes. More....