In a major development for chimpanzee conservation efforts, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that all chimpanzees will be considered “endangered” in the U.S. Previously, only wild chimpanzees were considered endangered, while their captive counterparts were classified as “threatened.”
While the earlier discrepancy between classifications may seem odd, it was originally enacted with good intentions. As their numbers in the wild began to plunge due to poaching and habitat loss, the idea was that relaxing regulations on captive chimps would encourage breeding, with the aim of eventually propping up their numbers in the wild. Unfortunately, looser regulations also led to a growing culture of using the animals as an entertainment and research commodity.
“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 Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director. “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.”
Wild chimpanzees have been classified as endangered since 1990, and it’s now believed they number as few as 172,000 in the wild. Typically speaking, the Endangered Species Act does not allow for captive-held animals to be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts on the basis of their captive state. The review of the chimpanzees’ status was prompted by a 2010 petition from multiple conservation organizations.
“All at the Jane Goodall Institute wish to congratulate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the decision to include captive chimpanzee in the endangered listing along with wild chimpanzees,” said Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace. “This will be enormously beneficial to individuals in inappropriate captive conditions. As such it is a tremendously significant decision which will be welcomed by everyone concerned with the well-being of our closest living relatives. Thank you for helping to make their world a better place.”
The rule will become official June 16, and will go into effect September 14 following a 90 day review.