Last night Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. district court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) and its coalition of chimpanzee experts and sanctuaries lacked Constitutional standing to stop an export permit granted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) allowing Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center (Emory Yerkes) to export 7 endangered chimpanzees—Agatha, Elvira, Faye, Fritz, Lucas, Tara and Georgia—to Wingham Wildlife Park (Wingham), an unaccredited zoo in Kent, England.
In the 58-page decision, Judge Jackson was critical of USFWS’s decision to allow Yerkes to export the chimpanzees based on a promise by Yerkes and Wingham to donate money to an organization to start a conservation program. She stated that the Endangered Species Act, which requires the agency to find that the export of the endangered species will “enhance the survival” of the species “does not say” that USFWS may authorize the export of endangered species under such circumstances and that “FWS’s broad interpretation appears to thwart the dynamic of environmental protection that Congress plainly intended when it mandated that no export of endangered species be allowed unless the agency permits such export pursuant to certain specified circumstances.” The Judge further stated that This Court considers doubtful FWS’s insistence that, when Congress penned Section 10(a) it intended to authorize the agency to ‘sell’ its permits in this fashion.”
However, having found that none of the Plaintiffs, including any of the organizations or the several individuals who worked with the chimpanzees for years at Yerkes had standing to challenge the permit, the Court found that “ the Court cannot evaluate and rule upon the merits of Plaintiffs’ contentions, or FWS’s responses, because the constraints of Article III standing prevent it from reaching the merits of the important questions of statutory interpretation and administrative law that have been presented in this case…”
Reacting to the decision, Theodora Capaldo, Ed.D., NEAVS' President, stated, “For years USFWS has used a “pay to play” approach authorizing entities to engage in activities otherwise strictly prohibited under the ESA with respect to endangered species—including the “take” and export and import of such species. These 7 endangered chimpanzees will now go from ‘working’ in a lab to ‘working’ in ‘commercial exhibition’ for further financial exploitation instead of retirement in a U.S. sanctuary, which they so deserve.” Capaldo continues, “We took action because we have always known exporting these endangered chimpanzees to an unaccredited commercial zoo overseas was in direct contravention of the ESA; does nothing to enhance species survival; has a dire impact on global conservation efforts of endangered species; could potentially open the floodgates as a no cost route for labs to dump privately owned chimpanzees to unaccredited commercial facilities worldwide; and is not in the best interest of these individual—or any—chimpanzees.”
The ruling comes nearly two years after Emory Yerkes’ initial announcement on February 4, 2015, stating it would be ‘donating’ eight chimpanzees to Wingham—which has never cared for or exhibited chimpanzees—let alone those with the special needs that attend chimpanzees held their entire lives in the confines of a lab. Abby, one of the original Emory/Yerkes’ 8, died in February while under Yerkes’ care, leaving only 7 chimpanzees in the case. Announcement of her death came in a footnote in Yerkes’ legal brief. Importantly there are five U.S. sanctuaries willing to accept Yerkes’ chimpanzees: one in Florida that could welcome the chimpanzees over the next weeks and one in Georgia only 90 miles from Yerkes’ lab.
Chimpanzee and conservation experts around the world warned USFWS that the proposed arrangement, by which Yerkes would be allowed to export the chimpanzees for commercial exploitation in exchange for money donated to an undefined conservation project, sets a dangerous precedent for the commercialization of all endangered species. Dr. Richard Wrangham anthropologist, Harvard professor, and founder of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, who has worked with chimpanzees in the field in Africa for more than 40 years, was “…completely shocked and appalled this export will continue even in light of our warnings that allowing this deal will undercut our already difficult task for fending off the further commercialization of great apes, and particularly the black market in infant chimpanzees taken from the wild for the pet and exhibition trade.”
Individuals and organizations that submitted comments to USFWS opposing the export also included: Dr. Richard Leakey, Chairman, Kenya Wildlife Service and United Nations Great Apes Survival Partnership Ambassador (GRASP); Doug Cress, Executive Director, GRASP: Michele L. Stumpe, Esq., Chair, Pan African Sanctuary Alliance; the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums; the British and Irish Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance and many other U.S. and worldwide experts.
NEAVS, its coalition, and other chimpanzee supporters, worked to ensure the Yerkes’ 7 would have a chance to spend the remainder of their lives in the safety of U.S. sanctuary—where the focus would have been solely on their well-being. NEAVS et al. successfully derailed the permit earlier last year, forcing USFWS to hold a second public comment period, resulting in 27,000+ comments (overwhelming majority in opposition). And, as a result of NEAVS’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the export was again stopped in May until the full case could be brought before Judge Jackson. NEAVS et al.’s campaign gathered a global outpouring of expert and public opposition putting a spotlight on this critical issue.
NEAVS et al. were represented by Katherine Meyer, of the Washington, D.C. public interest law firm, Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP. Ms. Meyer said she is, “extremely disappointed that the court did not find that any of our Plaintiffs had standing to be heard on this issue of utmost importance to blocking the continued commercialization of endangered species,” and that the law of standing, “is once again being used as a roadblock to protecting animals who unfortunately cannot speak for themselves.”
NEAVS and its coalition remain resolute in its continued pressure on Emory Yerkes and Dan Ashe, Director, USFWS, to do the right thing by allowing Agatha, Elvira, Faye, Fritz, Lucas, Tara and Georgia to live out the remainder of their lives together in the safety of a U.S. sanctuary. They are appealing to their moral responsibility in light of what the chimpanzees deserve and the Court’s agreement that USFWS has misread the plain meaning of the Endangered Species Act.
Original release available via PRNewswire.
Nancy Finn, Director of Communications
Photo: Chimpanzee in sanctuary/(c)JMcArthur