FWS Told Not to Issue Permit Allowing Yerkes Lab to Export Chimpanzees to Unaccredited Zoo in England

On Friday, November 13, we filed extensive comments with the Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the New England Anti-vivisection Society (NEAVS), several chimpanzee sanctuaries, and several individuals and other organizations opposing a permit application by Yerkes Lab in Atlanta to export eight chimpanzees to an unaccredited zoo in England (Wingham Wildlife Park).  A copy of the comments can be found here.  Our opposition to the permit was also highlighted in a New York Times story published yesterday.

In June 2015, after decades of working on the issue on behalf of animal welfare organizations we were successful in convincing the FWS to finally protect the captive members of the chimpanzee species as "endangered," along with their wild counterparts, under the Endangered Species Act.  For years, the FWS would only consider chimpanzees in the wild as worthy of protection under the statute, which, in the words of FWS Director Ashe was a "mistake," that led to the use of captive chimpanzees as a mere "commodity" -- as captive members of this highly endangered species were pervasively exploited in entertainment, the pet trade, and medical research. 

The final listing rule became effective on September 14, 2015.  However, because labs may no longer treat captive chimpanzees in ways that "take" them within the meaning of the ESA -- e.g., "harm" or "harass" them -- Yerkes was eager to relieve itself of dozens of chimpanzees that it had bred in the laboratory and used as the subjects of various research experiments for years.  Rather than send these eight chimpanzees -- Lucas, Fritz, Agatha, Tara, Abby, Elvira, and Georgia -- to a U.S. sanctuary, Yerkes tried to export them to an unaccredited zoo before September 14, 2015 -- to avoid having to apply for and obtain a permit under the strict requirements that apply to exports of endangered species.  However, because the facility in England -- which has never housed chimpanzees and has scant experience with this species --  was not ready to accept the chimps, the export could not be achieved before that date, and, accordingly, Yerkes had no choice but to apply for a permit.

However, as our comments show, in doing so Yerkes made several misrepresentations, failed to disclose other material facts, and failed to demonstrate that export of the chimps will in any way "enhance the propagation or survival" of the chimpanzee species in the wild as required by the ESA.  For example, the unaccredited zoo is not even a member of the European Species Survival Program that oversees the breeding of endangered species and which we were able to show actually opposes the transfer of the chimps to England.  (See our Exhibit A).  In addition, the Kibale Chimpanzee Research Project -- to which Yerkes said money would be contributed in exchange for the permit -- does not want this money and did not desire to be used as "leverage" for an unjustified permit, and has therefore also informed the FWS that it opposes issuance of the permit (See our Exhibit C).

We also argue in our comments that because of the important precedent this decision will set for the future of other captive chimpanzees who, because they are now listed as endangered can no longer be used in commercial enterprises without a permit from the FWS, the agency must comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act before granting any such permit.

The comment period ends Monday, November 16, 2015.