Quit monkeying around: Close captive chimpanzee loopholes

There is some serious monkey business about the way captive chimps are treated in this country. When faced with concrete evidence of the species’ continuing decline in 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) increased protections for chimpanzees by designating them as “Endangered,” but chose to carve out an exemption for captive chimps, and instead classified this sub-group as “Threatened.”

The rationale behind this split-listing was to allow for continued breeding of captive chimpanzees to ensure that additional wild chimpanzees were not removed from their natural habitat for the pet trade, entertainment and biomedical research. However, a “Threatened” listing, along with a special rule written in by the USFWS, makes it legal to buy, sell and exploit these animals, and ostensibly offers no real protection for the species on U.S. soil. Chimpanzees, even if bred in captivity, are still wild animals.

Those that are bred for the entertainment and pet industries lead an unnatural life frequently isolated from others of their kind. Once fully grown, chimpanzees are typically no longer wanted for these purposes, and can end up dropped at already over-burdened wildlife sanctuaries, or worse, in the biomedical industry (the U.S. and Gabon are the only two countries in the world that are still actively involved in biomedical research on chimpanzees). What is most concerning is that wild chimpanzee populations continue their rapid decline, primarily as a result of habitat loss and hunting/removal for the illegal bushmeat and pet trades.

The global population, which numbered around one million a hundred years ago, is now estimated at less than 300,000. If the current trend continues, it is expected that chimpanzees and other Great Ape populations will decrease an additional 80% over the next 30-40 years, leaving us very little time to rescue these species from global extinction. Luckily, the USFWS is currently reviewing the status of captive chimpanzees, and will hopefully make the decision to give the full spectrum of protections that are currently afforded to their wild kin. It is obvious that this split listing has done nothing to help wild populations, and instead has jeopardized the welfare of captive chimpanzees. It’s time that the U.S. government quit monkeying around and close this loophole right now. -JF

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