The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday declared African chimpanzees an endangered species, a move sought by conservationists to protect the estimated 175,000 animals remaining in the wild from extinction.
But in a compromise with U.S. researchers, the agency also decided to keep classifying captive American chimps not as endangered but “threatened,” allowing their continued use for research.
Jane Goodall, a noted primatologist, called the government decision an “incredibly helpful” step in protecting chimps, though she noted that conservationists now must “convince the European countries that they also should recognize the endangered nature of chimps.”
Critics have feared that designating chimps as endangered--meaning they would receive the most stringent government protection and could not be imported or sold in the United States, nor be used in research projects--could stall growing medical work involving their use. But by excluding captive, American chimps from the endangered list, officials hope medical research will be unhampered.
The agency compromise should not threaten medical research, said Dr. Robert A. Whitney, research services director for the National Institutes of Health.
“With a judicious use of the animals we have, we feel we can meet our needs,” he said, adding that researchers, “have spent a great deal of money” building a U.S. chimp breeding colony that, if maintained, should help provide adequate supplies of the animals.