EcoBeat Staff – Thanks to a petition started five years ago by animal rights organizations, including the Human Society, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service just decided to allow the country’s 1,724 captive chimpanzees to receive the endangered species status that wild chimps have had since the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1990. Now, in order to put a chimp on display in a zoo or be held in a laboratory, you must prove that the end result will in some way benefit chimpanzees at-large.
For years, it was argued that chimpanzees played an essential role in AIDS research (though this was later revealed to be a farce and in 2015, alternatives like human-cell cultures exist). In the late 80s, their link to the disease, as well as the growing epidemic of deforestation across their homeland of Congo, created a difficult situation for biodiversity conservationists, including Jane Goodall. They had to decide whether they would fight for all chimps to be protected, thereby risking an outright rejection of the entire Endangered Species Act, or bend to the medical industry and allow the breeding and testing of lab chimps while the Act passed, giving wild chimps endangered species protections. Conservationists hoped that by encouraging labs to breed their captive chimps, they could reduce the demand for poaching of wild populations while allowing seemingly important research to continue, making the split designation a win-win. Unfortunately, the plan backfired, creating a culture where these highly intelligent creatures are treated as a commodity.
As the only animal on the endangered species list ever to be given this split designation, the change comes as too little too late according to many animal rights activists. The chimps may be free now, but there is no funding for housing these creatures once they leave the labs they were born in. There are only two major chimpanzee sanctuaries in the United States and, because of insufficient funding (donate here), are not functioning at full capacity.