U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Clarifies Permit Process for Chimpanzee Research

By | July 30, 2015

In a July 22 meeting with representatives of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and the American Physiological Society, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials clarified requirements for obtaining permits for chimpanzee research. Following a June 15 FWS decision to designate captive chimpanzees as endangered, any act that violates the “take” provision of the Endangered Species Act by harming, harassing, killing, or injuring an endangered animal—including most biomedical research—now requires a permit.

According to FWS officials, permits may be issued for two types of practices. FWS will issue permits for research that directly benefits conservation efforts for the wild chimpanzee population (e.g., development of an Ebola vaccine for chimpanzees).  FWS will also consider issuing permits for chimpanzee research that does not directly benefit chimpanzee conservation but includes plans to fund “in situ” conservation efforts. Examples of in situ conservation include donations to anti-poaching efforts in Africa, educational campaigns for communities living near chimpanzee habitats, or training programs for African veterinarians. Importantly, FWS noted that funds from federal research grants could not be directed toward in situ conservation.

FWS indicated that acts of “take” during regular husbandry practices and veterinary care as well as most behavioral research would not require a permit. They estimated that permit decisions would require 90 days of consideration following submission, including a 30-day public comment period.  FWS plans to coordinate with the National Institutes of Health’s Chimpanzee Research Use Panel, which ensures proposed research abides by a report from the Institute of Medicine, to avoid unnecessary delays in the already lengthy approval process.

Permits are typically authorized for a five-year period, and annual progress reports will be required. These reports must identify the activities, such as blood draws, injections, and biopsies, that violate the “take” provision and document progress on in situ conservation plans.

FWS indicated a willingness to work with any entity intending to apply for a permit to ensure they have a strong application. Permits will be required beginning on September 14. As of the July 22 meeting, FWS has received only one permit inquiry.