U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe recently announced a final rule to classify all chimpanzees, both wild and captive, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA. The rule up-grades the status of captive chimpanzees from threatened to match that of wild chimpanzees, and removes them from a special rule for primates that allowed some activities otherwise prohibited under the ESA.
Threats to the chimpanzee, including habitat loss, poaching and disease, have intensified and expanded since wild populations were listed as endangered in 1990.
These threats are exacerbated by an increasing human population, the expansion of settlements, and increasing pressure on natural resources to meet the needs of the growing human population.
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.
Chimpanzees are found in a wide but discontinuous distribution in 22 countries of equatorial Africa. Across the range of the species, high deforestation rates are destroying and fragmenting forests. Widespread poaching, capture for the pet trade, and outbreaks of disease are impeding chimpanzees’ ability to sustain viable populations in the wild.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has funded $9.4 million in grants for conservation efforts to protect chimpanzees, matched by an additional $11.5 million in leveraged funds. These grants have supported field projects in 19 countries.
The Service will work closely with the biomedical research community to permit biomedical research that must use chimpanzees as research subjects.
The final rule will publish in the Federal Register on June 16, 2015, and will go into effect 90 days after publication on September 14, 2015.
“Extending captive chimpanzees the protections afforded their endangered cousins in the wild will ensure humane treatment and restrict commercial activities under the Endangered Species Act,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe. “The decision responds to growing threats to the species and aligns the chimpanzee’s status with existing legal requirements. Meanwhile, we will continue to work with range states to ensure the continued survival and recovery of chimpanzees in the wild.”