GRASP Welcomes U.S. Government Decision to Review Chimpanzee Status

05th Sep 2011 Press Releases

Nairobi – The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) welcomed the United States government’s recent announcement it will re-examine the conservation status of captive chimpanzees, a decision that could close a controversial loophole that many believe hindered attempts to protect the apes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) stated on August 31 that it has initiated a review of whether captive chimpanzees should be “up-listed” from the current “threatened” status to “endangered.”

Although chimpanzees are classified as “endangered” in the wild – and some sub-species have dwindled to just a few hundred in select regions – the estimated 2,150 chimpanzees in the U.S. are regarded differently because they were once needed for bio-medical experiments.

The FWS will accept public comments on the review for the next 60 days before rendering a decision.

“GRASP is hopeful that chimpanzees in the U.S. will soon receive the same legal respect and protection as those in the wild in Africa,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “Whether chimpanzees were ever useful as test subjects is debatable, but there is no doubt that a species classified as ‘threatened’ lacks the conservation urgency of one that is ‘endangered.'”

The FWS decision was prompted by a 144-page petition that states “sanctioned exploitation” by the U.S. in laboratory testing, entertainment and private ownership undercuts legitimate attempts at conservation. Important testimony in the petition was provided by GRASP patrons Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Richard Wrangham, along with GRASP envoy Ian Redmond.

The petition quoted Dr. Brian Hare of Duke University as saying the “hypocrisy of the U.S. in allowing domestic exploitation of chimpanzees while simultaneously arguing they must be conserved in Africa, results in a loss of political capital, making it more difficult for western conservationists to convince African communities and decision-makers to take action to protect chimpanzees.”

The U.S. originally adopted the so-called “split-listing” of chimpanzees in 1987, when the AIDS epidemic spurred breeding programs for chimpanzees to be used in testing programs. But AIDS tests on chimpanzees were halted years ago, and breeding programs ceased in 1996.

GRASP was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2001 to respond to the global conservation crisis facing chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos and lift the threat of imminent extinction.