The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) release a final rule today classifying all chimpanzees, both wild and captive, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Coalition advocated for this rule and thousands of activists spoke out in support of it.
The rule results in listing both captive and wild individuals as “endangered,” which will increase protections for captive chimpanzees while positively affecting the conservation of wild chimpanzees. Prior to this rule, wild chimpanzees were protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, while their captive counterparts were listed as threatened.
This “split-listing” of chimpanzees was harmful as it allowed the use of captive chimpanzees in entertainment, the pet trade and for invasive research. This negatively affects wild populations by leading the public to believe that chimpanzees are not in need of conservation. In addition, captive chimpanzees frequently suffer abuse and neglect in these industries.
In its announcement, the USFWS said:
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. Recovery from the loss of individuals is more difficult for chimpanzees given their slow reproductive rates.
The ESA (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. In 2010, the Service received a petition from a coalition of organizations, including the Jane Goodall Institute, to list all chimpanzees as endangered, prompting a formal review of the status of chimpanzees under the ESA.