FWS Sued Over Permit to Yerkes Research Center to Ship Chimpanzees Overseas to Unaccredited Zoo

Complaint for Declaratory and Injuctive Relief

1. Plaintiffs challenge an unprecedented and highly controversial decision by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) to issue a permit under section 10 of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA” or Act), 16 U.S.C. § 1531, et seq., to Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta, Georgia (“Yerkes”) authorizing Yerkes to export eight chimpanzees – Lucas, Fritz, Agatha, Abby, Tara, Faye, Elvira, and Georgia – to the Wingham Wildlife Park (“Wingham”), an unaccredited zoo in Kent, England. This permit is the first of its kind to be issued regarding the export of captive chimpanzees since the captive members of the chimpanzee species were officially listed as “endangered” under the ESA, effective September 14, 2015. In deciding to issue the permit to Yerkes, the FWS violated the requirements of Section 10 of the statute which governs such decisions, as well as the agency’s own implementing regulations and obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), 27 U.S.T. 1087 (Mar. 3, 1973), and the treaty’s implementing regulations. 

 2. In reaching its decision, the FWS also failed to comply with any of the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., i.e., it did not prepare an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement, as required by that statute. The FWS also violated its obligation to consider the adverse impacts of its decision on efforts to conserve chimpanzees in the wild, even though Wingham clearly intends to breed the eight chimpanzees to create infant chimpanzees, which, in turn will serve to fuel a desire for infant chimps, and thus the already devastating black market in infant chimpanzees taken from the wild for the pet and entertainment industries. The FWS also failed to consider the precedential effect its decision will have on the disposition of other captive chimpanzees that have now been finally listed as “endangered” under the Act. The FWS also failed to consider any alternative courses of action – a particularly glaring omission in light of the fact that several accredited U.S. chimpanzee sanctuaries have expressed a willingness to provide homes for these eight chimpanzees. 

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