Biomedical research with captive chimpanzees should be allowed to continue, the American Physiological Society said in comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS). This was the central tenet of the APS response to a proposal that would classify captive chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“Chimpanzees stand in a unique position,” the APS wrote. “They face major threats to their continued existence in the wild. At the same time, captive chimpanzees have served as an important biomedical research model.”
The August 12, 2013 comment letter pointed out that the NIH had just announced implementation plans for the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations to continue a scaled-down program of biomedical research with chimpanzees. Such research, conducted using strict ethical and scientific criteria, would be consistent with the scientific research exceptions permissible under the ESA, the APS noted.
“Given the many protections already in place for chimpanzees in biomedical research, the APS urges F&WS to expedite the permitting process to minimize its impact on the development and dissemination of treatments for serious diseases,” the APS wrote.
Since 1990, captive chimpanzees have been classified as threatened even though wild chimpanzees were considered endangered due to human encroachment on their habitat, poaching, and infectious diseases. The threatened classification covered chimpanzees in biomedical research as well as chimpanzees used for entertainment and kept as pets.
The F&WS action came in response to a petition submitted by the Humane Society of the U.S., the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, and other conservation and animal rights organizations. The petition asked the F&WS to re-classify captive chimpanzees as endangered on the grounds that the “exploitation” of captive chimpanzees in these activities exacerbates the plight of wild chimpanzees. However, in reviewing the evidence presented by the petitioners and the current threats faced by wild chimpanzees, the F&WS said it “did not find evidence that this situation was a significant driver in the status of the species.”
Nevertheless, on the basis of a legal review of the statutory language and legislative history of the ESA, F&WS concluded that the law “does not allow for captive animals to be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts on the basis of their captive state.” The APS did not address this revised legal analysis. Rather, its comments focused on how biomedical research with captive chimpanzees is consistent with objectives of the ESA and has the potential to enhance the conservation of the species through infectious disease research.