US Proposes Wildlife Protection for Captive Chimps

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The US Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday announced it is considering giving captive chimpanzees the same endangered status that currently protects chimps living in the wild.

"While wild chimpanzees have long been recognized as endangered, existing regulations deprive captive chimpanzees in the United States of protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)" the USFWS said in a statement.

The US government agency said that it decided to consider the move after assessing a petition from The Humane Society of the United States, which has lobbied hard for the change.

"Our closest living relatives are declining in number and they are in trouble," Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, said in a statement.

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"It's critical that the United States take forceful action to protect chimps in the wild and in captivity, in order to assure the survival of future generations of chimpanzees in their native habitats."

The status change for captive chimpanzees is expected to significantly reduce their use for entertainment, as pets, and in biomedical research.

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Officials said the rule changes are subject to a 60-day public comment period. The proposed change was applauded by diverse coalition of animal rights groups, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Fund for Animals and Humane Society International, and Jane Goodall Institute.

Goodall, among the world's most famous primatologists, thanked the USFWS for proposed changes that would "protect chimpanzees from harm and exploitation regardless of whether they are in the wild or in captivity," she said.

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"This is an important step toward saving our closest living relatives from extinction." Researchers say populations of wild chimpanzees have fallen more than 65 percent in the last 30 years because of poaching and loss of habitat.

In response to a report from the non-profit Institute of Medicine, which found that research on chimps does little to advance medicine, the federal government is weighing retirement for most of the more than 350 chimpanzees currently in government-funded labs.

The primates would be sent to live in sanctuaries, decreasing the number available for government-financed experiments, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

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