Captive chimpanzees will get the same protections as wild chimps, federal wildlife officials say. On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service elevated the status of captive chimps to "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act to match that of wild chimps.
"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," Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said in a statement.
The rule is to be published in the Federal Register next Tuesday and go into effect on Sept. 14.
Previously, captive chimps were listed as "threatened." Animal-rights advocates said this meant they could be exploited for use in entertainment, as pets and in medical research.
In 2010, a coalition of advocates including famed primatologist Jane Goodall petitioned the U.S. government to extend "endangered" status to captive chimps, and on Friday, Goodall said the new policy will make exploitation more difficult.
"Many people have worked for more than two decades to bring about this change, and it is a relief to know that we have finally succeeded,” she said on her website. "There is still much to be done before all chimpanzees can be assured of adequate protection, but this new listing is a huge step towards preventing much of the blatant exploitation that was possible before."
According to wildlife groups, there are an estimated 170,000 to 300,000 chimps left in the wild in Africa today, down from as many as a million five decades ago. Chimp populations have dwindled due to destruction of habitat, hunting and disease. Project ChimpCARE says there are more than 2,000 chimps in captivity in the U.S., including at zoos, in biomedical labs and in the entertainment industry.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said that under the new rules, certain activities involving chimps will be prohibited without a permit, including import and export of the animals into and out of the United States.
"Permits will be issued for these activities only for scientific purposes that benefit the species in the wild, or to enhance the propagation or survival of chimpanzees, including habitat restoration and research on chimpanzees in the wild that contributes to improved management and recovery," the agency said.
Private owners of chimps won't need a permit to keep them, but the chimps can't be sold or transported across state lines for commercial purposes without a permit.