For the last few decades, chimpanzees have been classified as an endangered species, affording them legal protection from cruelty and mistreatment -- but only in the wild. For the thousands of chimps held in captivity across the U.S. however, no such distinction exists, leaving the door open for these animals to be subjected to unimaginable lives as laboratory test subjects or creatures to be paraded for our entertainment.
But that all may be changing, and not a moment too soon.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced plans to broaden the 'endangered species' classification to all chimpanzees, effectively banning all institutions from abusing or exploiting them. Under the proposed changes, it would become illegal to harm, harass, kill, or injure any chimp, as well as place strict limitations on how they could be transported or sold.
At the moment, the U.S. is the only developed country where chimps are used as laboratory test animals -- exposed to diseases and subjected to painful operations for years on end, often without ever seeing sunlight. Their inclusion on the Endangered Species list would make such practices illegal in nearly all cases.
“Things are moving down a funnel, and what’s going to come out at the other end, we think, is the practical end of chimpanzee use in invasive research,” says John Pippin, director of medical affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “They will quickly see there’s no future in this, and they will get out of the business.”
The exploitation of chimpanzees as performing animals, or mere commodities sold among exotic pet dealers, will also be significantly stifled under the proposal.
Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe says he hopes that ending the 'split classification' between captive and wild chimps will spur the public into realizing that the species as a whole is, and remains, imperiled.
Famed researcher Dr. Jane Goodall, who has long advocated for the humane treatment of chimps, has praised the proposal, saying: “This decision gives me hope that we truly have begun to understand that our attitudes toward treatment of our closest living relatives must change."