The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced plans to increase protections for captive chimpanzees. The species would be listed as ‘endangered’ in both the wild and captivity, a move that would require federal oversight of any activates that would harm or kill chimpanzees, including some research.
The new listing would require a federal permit before an invasive technique, like drawing blood or performing surgery, could be conducted on a chimp. Only research that “enhance[s] the propagation or survival” of the species would be approved.
The proposed rule is open for public comment for 60 days.
When chimpanzees were first listed as a protected species in 1990, only wild chimps were designated as endangered. Captive animals were listed as threatened, which allowed them to be used for medical research and other uses, such as entertainment, without a federal permit.
“This is the only time we treated a captive population different from a wild population,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “The justification for our proposal is built on an analysis that the ESA [Endangered Species Act] does not allow us to do that. This would be the last split listing that we would ever do.”
The federal government estimates that there are about 2,000 captive chimpanzees in the United States, half of which are used for biomedical research.
“I think the de facto meaning will be that those that use chimpanzees for invasive medical research will throw up their hands and say the door is closing and they should be getting out of the business,” said Dr. John Pippin, a cardiologist and director of academic affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which supports the upgraded protections for chimps.
In recent years, the federal government has begun to move away from supporting medical research on chimpanzees. In January 2013, the National Institutes of Health Council of Councils approved a report that recommended permanently retiring most chimps from research and moving the animals to sanctuaries.
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