BOSTON, April 25, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) and a coalition of sanctuaries and chimpanzee experts, filed suit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) in response to its Thursday (April 21) decision to grant Yerkes National Primate Research Center (Yerkes) a permit to export eight endangered chimpanzees (Yerkes' 8) -- Abby, Agatha, Elvira, Faye, Fritz, Lucas, Tara and Georgia -- to Wingham Wildlife Park (Wingham), an unaccredited commercial zoo in Kent, England.
FWS's decision is the first of its kind since it granted a petition by NEAVS and others in June, 2015 to afford captive members of the chimpanzee species the full protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At that announcement, FWS Director Dan Ashe said the failure to treat captive members of the species as "endangered" for decades was a "mistake" and fostered a culture that treated chimpanzees as a "commodity."
FWS's recent decision to allow Yerkes to export chimpanzees to England to be on exhibition for profit continues to treat these endangered animals as a commercial "commodity," and is at odds with 27,000+ public comments, the overwhelming majority opposed to the permit, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the British & Irish Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the European Endangered Species Programme, and several African chimpanzee conservation groups, many of whom stood to potentially receive money from Yerkes/Wingham if they had agreed to support the export.
The global groundswell of prominent chimpanzee, sanctuary and conservation experts to stop the transfer, includes Dr. Richard Wrangham, Harvard University and Founder of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in Uganda, who warned FWS that:
"If USFW[S] responds to the very important achievement of treating chimpanzees as an endangered species by allowing Yerkes to offload its chimpanzees to a commercial zoo, the system will be undermined."
He further explained transfer of the chimps:
"would carry grave risks for the survival of chimpanzees and other great apes in the wild [because it would] open the door to similar transfers… of apes caught in the wild, … being sent to zoos around the world in exchange for a cash transfer."
Dr. Richard Leakey, Chairman, Kenya Wildlife Service and United Nations Great Apes Survival Partnership Ambassador strenuously objected, particularly when:
"There are currently over 50 chimpanzees already in Europe awaiting space in proper facilities.... and these eight chimpanzees have already been offered permanent asylum in American sanctuaries."
Shipping chimpanzees who have endured research use and confinement to be on commercial exhibition at Wingham, which boasts 250,000 visitors a year, is in flagrant contrast to Director Ashe's June 2015 announcement that captive chimpanzees will be afforded, "the highest levels of protections as an endangered species." Wingham has no history of housing chimpanzees, is not part of a chimpanzee species survival program, and is not accredited by any European zoological association.
Those working to oppose the export are particularly concerned because Wingham admitted it intends to breed these chimpanzees, but Wingham is not a member of the chimpanzee European Endangered Species Programme, which opposes the export on many grounds. However, baby animals -- especially chimpanzees -- are a valuable draw for Wingham, which stands to make millions of dollars from exhibiting the chimpanzees and their offspring. Breeding any species outside of a regulated species program is a major cause of surplus animals worldwide. Many are euthanized or dumped at substandard facilities. Europe already has dozens of so-called "surplus" chimpanzees in need of placement.
The FWS decision is particularly perplexing when five U.S. sanctuaries have made clear their willingness to accept the Yerkes' 8 that would not only allow them to avoid the trauma of a transcontinental transfer, but also mean they could live out their lives for themselves, in a setting that would allow their natural behaviors with their friends and family. The sanctuaries include: Center for Great Apes (Florida); Primate Rescue Center (Kentucky); Chimp Haven (Louisiana); Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (Washington) -- all of which are U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed, Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries accredited and North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance members. Project Chimps, a new sanctuary in the state of Georgia, will also certainly accept these eight chimpanzees.
FWS previously granted Yerkes an export permit in November 2015, but retracted it in response to a lawsuit filed by NEAVS and its coalition. FWS's original decision was premised on Yerkes'/Wingham's promise to provide funding to the Kibale Chimpanzee Project and the Wildlife Conservation Society, in exchange for being allowed to export the chimpanzees. When both organizations refused to be used as leverage, FWS suggested that Yerkes/Wingham donate money to a group that concentrates on women's health and human population in Africa. FWS's new decision relies on that arrangement.
In response to FWS's new decision, Theodora Capaldo, NEAVS' CEO, stated, "Rather than heed the advice of conservationists that this export will set a dangerous precedent by informing the world that the U.S. sanctions commercial use of endangered species in exchange for promises of money to third parties, FWS is facilitating private entities' commercial interests in exploiting endangered species."
As succinctly stated by April Truitt, Director of Primate Rescue Center, "These animals have suffered enough. They deserve to go to sanctuary."
FWS is required to wait 10-days before issuing the permit. NEAVS et al. are represented in the case by Katherine Meyer, of the Washington, D.C. public interest law firm, Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP.
Nancy Finn, Director of Communications
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