You’ve heard a lot of opposition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) granting the Yerkes National Primate Research Center a permit to export Lucas, Fritz, Agatha, Abby, Tara, Faye, Elvira, and Georgia --the “Yerkes 8” -- overseas to an unaccredited roadside zoo. While politics could prevail over good sense and U.S. law, I assure you NEAVS will fight this permit to the end. Why? Because wherever we look, we see far more CONS to exporting these chimpanzees than PROS. We won’t sit back while chimpanzees who have been exploited for years in research are now at risk of being shipped off to endure the stress and exploitation of being on exhibition.
Imagine going from a world of little exposure to humans (except lab staff and the occasional visitor) to being housed with a new social group in unfamiliar surroundings where hundreds of people (a purported 200,000+ per year) gawk, bang for your attention, laugh, eat, pull back in fear, and do all the things people do when visiting caged animals in zoos? Imagine, after losing your friends and family with whom you lived for years, you and your new group are hauled off in a truck and loaded onto a plane, only to arrive hours later at a strange place. Your new home -- larger than the lab and “furnished” with hanging tires and platforms -- is still, to your animal spirit, sterile. It has no open sky, islands, lush greens, trees to climb, or overhead passages to roam -- the common landscape of modern U.S. sanctuaries. As days go on, you start to get what it means to be on exhibition. You are not safe in sanctuary, on whose islands you could bask or where caregivers would never make you endure unwelcomed visitors. You are not safe in sanctuary where you would be afforded as many choices as captivity allows. Instead, you’ll be captive for your remaining life in the same four walls surrounded by people from early morning to evening. Every day.
Let’s go further: imagine you’re “allowed to breed” for some purported greater good. The baby in your arms, whom you may or may not know how to nurture given your own history of maternal deprivation, is someone who needs protection. Someone even more vulnerable than you are. Someone else who is condemned to captivity for 40, 50 or more years. And, if the zoo thinks you’re not up to parenting, you’ll be darted, and when you awake your baby will be gone -- for “his or her own good.” Human hand-rearing is common at roadside and other zoos and, of course, it’s in the best interest of the animals to be more human user-friendly. Isn’t it?
You won’t know this, but you may be the first of many chimpanzees who could be dumped by U.S. labs under the legal blessings of a U.S. government agency, FWS, mandated to protect endangered species. Your transfer sets a dangerous precedent for all private lab-held chimpanzees, and continues a history of FWS mismanagement that has allowed exploiters to “buy” an export permit by donating funds to true conservation efforts regardless of whether or not the actual export of the endangered species did anything for the species’ survival.
People of standing within the chimpanzee community, including conservationists, sanctuaries, zoos, former lab workers, primate vets, and animal protection organizations, have voiced a loud and resounding NO to the permit. Their reasons range from concern for the “Yerkes 8” and their potential offspring, to the unaccredited facility where they would live, to the laws the permit would violate.
So, we’ll continue our opposition. And if another permit is issued (we stopped the first one) we’ll take it to the courts. On firm legal grounds, we will prevail unless the agency, lab or others are allowed influence over law.
I promised this blog would present both sides. At least, the title implies such. So here’s what we see as the only PRO to granting this permit. It’s about money: Yerkes will get off scot-free in its responsibility to provide lifetime, or any, care for the chimpanzees it bred, exploited and profited millions of dollars, and the zoo that is accepting this oh-so-generous “donation” will profit from ticket admissions. Money saved and profit earned sum up the only PRO. But, none of that has anything to do with the well-being of Lucas, Fritz, Agatha, Abby, Tara, Faye, Elvira, and Georgia, or any other chimpanzees in U.S. labs. Nor does it honor the intent of the Endangered Species Act -- to provide the strongest of protections for endangered species.
If granted, this permit would fly in the face of FWS’s recent admission that it was a mistake to have listed captive U.S. chimpanzees as “threatened” (allowing decades of exploitation in research, entertainment, and private trade) while free-living chimpanzees were listed “endangered.” After FWS feigned humble admission of error, they claimed to have made it right: captive chimpanzees would now be afforded the highest protections as an endangered species. However, if FWS reissues the Yerkes permit, we must conclude that Tim Van Norman, Chief of Branch of Permits, didn’t get that memo. Another FWS tragic oops.
One last thing (yup, another CON): accredited and experienced not-for-profit U.S. sanctuaries will be denied the right to provide the “Yerkes 8” the dignity, safety, and focused attention they provide to all their residents. And, they will not be given an opportunity to prove false prevailing misinformation -- that “there is no place for them in U.S. sanctuaries.” U.S. sanctuaries are willing and eager to provide for these and all U.S. chimpanzees. The reality is that the labs are eager to continue refusing to step-up to the plate and shoulder their share of the responsibility for the very chimpanzees they bred.
Ah, we’re back to the money thing, aren’t we?
Let’s work hard so that compassion, reason, responsibility, and law prevail -- not politics, greed or influence. OPPOSE THE YERKES FWS PERMIT APPLICATION. OPPOSE IT.