Chimpanzee research has allowed the science community to gain an immense understanding about a breadth of topics, from infectious diseases to behavior and cognition. Though chimpanzees have proven to be invaluable in biomedical research, helping us to fight infectious and fatal diseases that plague human society, it has been at no small cost to the chimpanzees themselves, which is why the recent placement of chimpanzees on the endangered species list has brought chimp research to a screeching halt.
On June 12, 2015 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced a final ruling that would classify all wild and captive chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Prior to this ruling, only wild chimpanzees were classified as endangered, while captive chimps were listed only as threatened. This final decision was published in the “Federal Register” four days after it was handed down, and went into effect on September 14, 2015 – 90 days after the official ruling. To read more information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, see the final rule, and hear from Jane Goodall regarding the change, visit their website here.
More than just invasive chimpanzee research will be halted as a result of this new decree, including the import and export of chimpanzees to and from the United States, any situation which results in a domestic “take”—a colloquial term referring to the harm, pursue or capture of an animal—and interstate and foreign commerce. The use of chimpanzees in research may continue only after a federal permit has been applied for and issued, which necessitates a review period of at least 90 days. Permits will only be issued for non-invasive scientific purposes that “benefit the species in the wild, or … enhance the propagation or survival of chimpanzees, including habitat restoration and research on chimpanzees in the wild that contributes to improved management and recovery.” While this clear purpose excludes biomedical research as described above, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that it will work closely with the biomedical research community in order to permit necessary investigations. What this means exactly is a bit unclear to those of us not well versed on circling legal jargon. David Grimm, “Science” author, says it’s unclear when or if biomedical research on chimpanzees will ever start again, as no U.S. laboratory has yet filed for one of these permits. If it does continue, it’s safe to say that research will likely be much more costly and will take far longer to result in significant data.
The National Institute of Health has been discussing a phase-out of invasive government-funded chimpanzee research. The chimpanzees involved in these programs would be retired to captive sanctuaries for two years, a retirement now made possible by this latest endangerment ruling.
Although we are the last country in this industrialized world to jump on the bandwagon, a near century-long stint of chimpanzee research in the United States has officially been transformed forever, and greater protection for over 700 chimpanzees in laboratories and roadside zoos across the country is on the way.