Positive Steps for Chimpanzees

It seems that chimps have been in the news a lot lately, and for a change, some of it is positive news.

The case I mentioned to you a few weeks ago that is pending in New York is still underway. This case, being argued by the Nonhuman Rights Project and sponsored by such high profile allies as the Jane Goodall Institute is seeking legal status for Hercules and Leo, two chimps currently being held in substandard conditions and being used for painful and cruel testing by Stony Brook University. If the case for Hercules and Leo is successfully, it will be historic in that it will set a legal precedent for all chimpanzees imprisoned in experimentation laboratories, circuses, zoos, and as “pets” in private homes.

Just this week, on June 13, 2015 the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that all chimpanzees – both wild and captive – will officially be designated as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This change will take place following a 90-day grace period, which ends September 14, 2015.

This is good news because until now, although all wild chimps are listed as endangered and afforded the protections outlined in the ESA, captive chimps in the US have been excluded from ESA protections, meaning that captive chimps were subjected to activities that would have otherwise been prohibited under the ESA.

Those of us who work in animal welfare wish this would mean an immediate end to all testing and captivity of chimps. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, states that the agency “will work closely with the biomedical community to permit biomedical research that must use chimps as research subjects.” That’s the bad news. The somewhat better news may be that the new designation will create barriers to using captive chimps in biomedical research – in other words, using chimps may get a lot more complicated and difficult for research facilities.

Hopefully, the new rules will result in many chimps finally being retired from research and allowed to live the rest of their days in sanctuaries. While this would be terrific news for chimps, it would also place additional burdens on the existing sanctuaries, as caring for chimps costs money, and facilities may have to be constructed or upgraded. Let’s hope that the feds understand that any ruling that moves chimps to sanctuaries must also be accompanied by additional funding to the sanctuaries.

It’s gratifying to see the decades of work on behalf of captive chimps starting to pay off. It’s been a long, hard road, but how wonderful to see something positive beginning to emerge.

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