Chimpanzee research in the United States may be nearly over. On June 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it is categorizing captive chimpanzees as an endangered species subject to legal protections.
The new rule will bar most invasive research on chimpanzees. Exceptions will be granted for work that would “benefit the species in the wild” or aid the chimpanzee’s propagation or survival, including work to improve chimp habitat and the management of wild populations.
The FWS proposed the rule in 2013 to close a loophole that exempted captive chimps from the Endangered Species Act protections that had already been given to their wild counterparts. Under the law, it is illegal to import or export an endangered animal, or to “harm, harass, kill [or] injure” one.
The government’s decision to list captive chimps as endangered drew swift criticism from some science groups. “Practically speaking, [given] the process to get exceptions [for invasive research], I don’t expect chimps will be a viable option,” says Matt Bailey, executive vice president of the National Association for Biomedical Research in Washington, D.C.
Bailey’s group argues that medical research with chimpanzees benefits both humans and chimps, given that the two species are affected by many of the same diseases, and notes that captive research chimps have been bred for that purpose — making the connection to wild populations tenuous.
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