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USFWS Reopens Public Comment Period for Chimpanzee Permit

Jan. 23, 2016

Yerkes remains committed to donating eight chimpanzees to Wingham Wildlife Park

Media Contacts

Lisa Newbern, 404-727-7709,

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has reopened the public comment period for the Yerkes National Primate Research Center’s permit application to donate eight chimpanzees to the Wingham Wildlife Park (WWP). USFWS has done this to give the public an extra 30 days to review the center’s plans for enhancement of chimpanzees in the wild.

We again ask the public to support the donation decisions we are making. To share your comments of support, please click here. USFWS is accepting comments through Feb. 22. (Now closed.)

We remain confident in our decision to donate eight chimpanzees to WWP and in the commitment WWP is making to provide lifetime care for these animals.

Disappointingly, during the initial comment period and since, some who oppose this donation have repeatedly shared incorrect and misleading information. Please see the information below for a better understanding of the issues we considered in making our donation decisions.

Claim: Many sanctuaries in the USA are willing to take the chimps. 

Truth: Only two existing sanctuaries have officially contacted Yerkes. The first presented an opportunity for a very small number of chimpanzees, which we determined was not an appropriate option. The second sanctuary contacted us in Jan. 2016 and offered to take the eight chimpanzees if the plans to donate them to the Wingham Wildlife Park (WWP) fell through. Yerkes has evaluated sanctuary options and will continue to do so, but there are far more research chimpanzees (approx. 308) that will need space in sanctuaries than there is space available. Frequently mentioned is the U.S. national chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, but this is no longer an option for the Yerkes chimpanzees. Though the Yerkes chimpanzees have been involved in federally funded research and some were previously accepted for retirement at Chimp Haven, Yerkes, and not the federal government, owns the chimpanzees. Ownership is one concern, as is Chimp Haven’s charge to serve federally owned chimpanzees that have been involved in biomedical research. Yerkes only conducts behavioral research with our chimpanzees.

Cliam: Yerkes is trying to skirt the intent of the Endangered Species Act.

Truth: The focus always has been on what will be best for the chimpanzees, the Yerkes Research Center and human health. Yerkes began working on the donation to WWP nearly 3 years ago and has during this time extensively evaluated WWP as well as options to meet the enhancement component of the USFWS requirements for permits. By partnering with WWP and the Population and Sustainability Network (PSN), our organizations will enhance the lives of wild chimpanzees by, for example, lessening human-induced impacts on them, such as reducing pressure for agricultural land use and thereby protecting chimpanzee natural habitats. Yerkes is confident WWP can provide care that will meet our expectations, and both Yerkes and WWP believe the USFWS would not allow such a donation if the receiving organization was not capable of providing appropriate care for the animals.  

Claim: This is a financial decision for Yerkes.

Truth: Yerkes’ reasons for wanting to donate some of our center's chimpanzees are based on many factors, not solely on financial aspects. Yerkes has not made millions of dollars from research with chimpanzees, nor research in general. NIH funding only covers a portion of research costs, leaving the center to make up the difference, and the NIH does not own nor provide any financial support for the Yerkes chimpanzees. Also, to couch our donation decision as ridding ourselves of our chimpanzees is completely inaccurate. We have and will continue to do what is best for our animals. We historically bred the chimpanzees at the request of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) because the NIH believed chimpanzees were the right animal model for HIV/AIDS research. When the NIH determined there were better models, we continued to provide the best care possible for the animals at great expense to our center, and we voluntarily adhered to the NIH breeding moratorium on chimpanzees. We have and will continue to do what is best for our animals. One of our core values is stewardship, which we carefully apply to care for our animals, manage our center and responsibly use the funding we receive from NIH to improve human health.  

Claim: WWP is not accredited.

Truth: Much like the regulatory environment in which the Yerkes Research Center operates, WWP is licensed by the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This is equivalent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. DEFRA maintains an active inspection process of its licensed facilities, and Wingham is in compliance with all regulations. WWP is also approved by the government of the United Kingdom under the Balai Directive, which sets the conditions for import and export of animals within the European Union that is not covered by other legislation. WWP voluntarily chose to withdraw from its independent accreditation from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA). At that time, WWP was a growing wildlife park and for a number of reasons decided the financial costs of being a member could be more effectively used to improve the park. As a result, WWP has grown the park's facilities, animals, educational programs, conservation support and members. Yerkes considers such membership and accreditation to be only one piece of many factors to consider and believes WWP is stronger today than when it was previously BIAZA-accredited.

Claim: WWP is not a member of the chimpanzee European Endangered Species Program (EEP).

Truth: This is correct, but it is not a negative. There is no need or way to be a member of such a species program when you do not yet have the species. WWP participates in other species EEP programs, showing its commitment and ability to work at the same levels as European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) members. WWP plans to discuss fully participating in the chimpanzee EEP once the chimpanzees are transferred to the park. The EEP’s statement about not wanting to include the Yerkes chimpanzees in the current studbook was based on inaccurate information activists provided regarding the genetic subtyping of the animals. Genetic testing has confirmed four of the animals are Western Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus), which is the subspecies the EEP wants; genetic testing will be completed on the other four animals before transfer. It was further claimed the chimpanzees would not be a suitable because they are related. This is only partially correct. All of the males are unrelated to all of the females.  

Claim: WWP plans to breed the chimpanzees and sell the infants.

Truth: WWP does not have any immediate plans to breed the chimpanzees, and it never plans to sell any of the chimpanzees. The female chimpanzees are all on contraceptives now, and WWP plans to maintain that. WWP’s intent is that any future breeding for the stability of the colony and/or the promulgation of the species would be done in conjunction with the chimpanzee EEP or be carried out to the EEP’s rules and regulations and within its geographical and institutional framework.

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