Endangered vs. Threatened
Chimpanzees are an endangered species no matter where they live.

Chimpanzee mother and child"Endangered" –  free-living chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania.
Photo: © NEAVS

Chimpanzee mother and childPepper in lab at LEMSIP.
Photo: © Fauna










UPDATE: In June 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would give the same protections to chimpanzees held in captivity as it does their free-living cousins in Africa! Learn more.

In the wild chimpanzees are “endangered,” while in captivity chimpanzees are listed as only “threatened.”

The Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a federal law that authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Services to protect endangered and threatened species from extinction in the U.S. and abroad. 

According to FWS:

Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. "Endangered" means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. "Threatened" means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.

Decades of wrong status: a timeline

1973: ESA becomes law.

1976: Chimpanzees listed as “threatened” under the ESA by FWS.

1977: The importation of chimpanzees caught in the wild was prohibited in the U.S. under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), with minor exceptions.

1990: Wild caught chimpanzees declared an “endangered species;” no change for captive U.S. chimpanzees.

In 1990, chimpanzees were declared an “endangered” species. However, this protected status only applied to wild chimpanzees; chimpanzees held in captivity in the U.S. remained separately listed as “threatened,” which allows for their continued use in biomedical research, entertainment, and as pets in the U.S. This “split-listing” of wild versus captive chimpanzees deprives all captive chimpanzees of any of the protections provided to species listed under the ESA and allows for their continued exploitation in captivity despite its implications for wild populations.

2010: A coalition including NEAVS filed the rulemaking petition "To Upgrade Captive Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) from Threatened to Endangered Status Pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as Amended" with FWS to declare captive chimpanzees as "endangered." An endangered status would mean chimpanzees could no longer be used in entertainment or biomedical and behavioral research that does not benefit the chimpanzee species.

2011: A Duke University study shows that the “use of entertainment chimpanzees in the popular media [in unnatural, human-like situations] negatively distorts the public's perception and hinders chimpanzee conservation efforts.”

2013: FWS proposes changing chimpanzees' split-listed status.

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