On June 15, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that all chimpanzees will be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Prior to this ruling, chimpanzees were “split-listed” with wild chimpanzees designated as endangered and captive chimpanzees designated as threatened. This designation allowed captive chimpanzees to be used in biomedical research, under the provision of a special rule. It is unclear whether biomedical research with chimpanzees will be allowed to proceed going forward.
According to the FWS press release, a permit will be required to conduct any chimpanzee research that might violate the “take” provision of the ESA. This provision blocks activities that would harm, harass, kill, or injure endangered animals and is expected to preclude most biomedical research. FWS further suggested permits will only be issued for scientific purposes that benefit the conservation of the species.
Despite these indications, FWS expressed a desire to “work closely with the biomedical research community to permit biomedical research that must use chimpanzees as research subjects.” Indeed, in replying to public comments submitted in response to the proposed rule, FWS stated it was not their “intent to prevent any biomedical research.” Observational studies would most likely not require a permit.
The permitting process is expected to add to the amount of time it will take to begin a research project using chimpanzees. In addition to the supplementary review process established in response to the Institute of Medicine report on the necessity of chimpanzee research, FWS permitting will require an additional 30-day public comment period.
Unlike most final rules that go into effect 30 days after posting in the Federal Register, the new rule will become effective in 90 days. FWS is delaying the effective date to “allow time to process applications for ongoing activities involving chimpanzees that would require a permit under the Act [ESA].”
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) opposed the endangered designation in comments submitted to FWS. FASEB will continue to monitor the situation.