News & Alerts

Emory Yerkes and USFWS Hold Off Controversial Export of Chimps

BOSTON, May 26, 2016 -- A federal judge in Washington D.C. will decide the future of 7 captive chimpanzees at Emory Yerkes’ National Primate Research Center on or before September 1, 2016. On Tuesday, NEAVS and its coalition succeeded in their efforts to halt the export of the Emory Yerkes chimps to an unaccredited zoo in England until the full case is presented. The chimps’ supporters are fighting so that Agatha, Elvira, Faye, Fritz, Lucas, Tara and Georgia get a chance to spend the rest of their lives at one of 5 U.S. chimp sanctuaries after being in a laboratory their entire lives at Emory University’s Primate Research Center. The judgement is now up to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Federal Court for the District of Columbia.

Leading a coalition of U.S. chimp sanctuaries, animal groups, and former Emory Yerkes employees, NEAVS sued U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to block Emory Yerkes’ permit to export the chimps to Wingham Wildlife Park in England. NEAVS and the coalition say exporting the chimps to an unaccredited commercial zoo:  

  • puts the chimps at risk of an international cargo shipment only to be placed on commercial exhibition,
  • does nothing to enhance species survival, and
  • makes no sense when 5 U.S. chimpanzee sanctuaries, including four in the southeast, with decades of combined experience in the care of hundreds of chimpanzees from labs are eager and willing to take the Emory Yerkes’ chimps.

At Tuesday’s Preliminary Injunction hearing to halt the export until the full case is presented, Judge Jackson questioned the lawyers from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Emory Yerkes, and NEAVS about the export permit. She repeatedly expressed concerns about Fish and Wildlife’s position that the permit would "enhance the survival" of the chimpanzee species, as required by the Endangered Species Act simply because Emory Yerkes and Wingham promise to make future financial contributions to a new “human health” program without providing specifics of the program or its benefit to chimpanzee species survival. The Judge questioned if this arrangement met the stringent test governing the export of an endangered species, as the export has nothing to do with conservation, and is being permitted to allow a commercial zoo to display the chimps for profit.

Following Judge Jackson’s questioning, Emory Yerkes and U.S. Fish and Wildlife recessed and agreed to halt the export until the full case is before Judge Jackson. Reacting to Emory Yerkes’ surprising capitulation, Theodora Capaldo, NEAVS' CEO, stated, "It is clear that Judge Jackson has thoughtful questions, particularly with Fish and Wildlife’s use of a 'pay-to-play' deal allowing facilities to engage in otherwise unlawful activities with an endangered species as long as they pay someone money in the name of conservation." Capaldo added, "It is becoming increasingly bizarre that Emory Yerkes insists on sending these 7 chimpanzees to Wingham. Chimpanzee and conservation experts around the world have warned that this proposed arrangement will set a dangerous precedent for the commercialization of an endangered species, and blow a huge hole in the integrity of the U.S. Endangered Species Act’s protections.  Five U.S. sanctuaries are offering to give these chimpanzees a home. Very early on, NEAVS offered to assist Emory Yerkes and pledged life-time care in sanctuary for Georgia, the eldest.  Emory Yerkes never approached a U.S. sanctuary for options before its deal with Wingham and continues to not even make reference to a sanctuary, Project Chimps, just 90 minutes northwest of Emory University’s campus that will also welcome them. A drive to any of the U.S. sanctuaries with caregivers throughout their journey is obviously much easier on the chimps, than a long and dangerous transatlantic cargo flight. Emory Yerkes’ refusal to commit to a U.S. sanctuary transfer is inexcusable and challenges their claimed commitment to their animals’ well-being. In February, Abby - one of the original 8 chimps Emory Yerkes plans to export - died in Emory’s care, leaving only 7. Her death was only disclosed in a footnote in the Emory Yerkes/U.S. Fish and Wildlife documents.”

At stake is whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s June 2015 decision giving captive chimpanzees full U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections will really protect laboratory chimps, or let them still be traded like commodities so unaccredited zoos like Wingham with no experience in chimpanzee care can profit from exhibiting them commercially. All of the chimpanzees at Emory Yerkes have been in labs their entire lives, up to four, even five decades. NEAVS and the chimps’ other advocates, say it’s time for their release to sanctuary where the sole commitment is to their well-being. 

More than 27,000 comments were submitted to Fish and Wildlife strongly opposing the chimps export.  Among the chimpanzee and conservation experts vehemently opposed are:

  • Dr. Richard Wrangham, Professor, Harvard University and Founder, Kibale Chimpanzee Project;
  • Michele L. Stumpe, Esq., Chair, Pan African Sanctuary Alliance;
  • Dr. Richard Leakey, Chairman, Kenya Wildlife Service and United Nations Great Apes Survival Partnership Ambassador (GRASP);
  • Doug Cress, Executive Director, GRASP:
  • the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums;
  • the British and Irish Association of Zoos & Aquariums;
  • Pan African Sanctuary Alliance;
  • the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance;
  • the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria; and,
  • the European Endangered Species Programme

In responding to yesterday's developments, Jen Feuerstein, one of the Plaintiffs who attended the hearing, expressed deep sadness at the news of the unexpected death of Abby, who Ms. Feuerstein had cared for as a young chimpanzee when she worked at Yerkes, and vowed to continue to, "be a voice for Abby and the other members of her social group" and to do everything in her power to ensure they all end up in a U.S. sanctuary, "where they can live out the remainder of their lives in peace, free from commercial exploitation."

Supplemental briefs will be filed by all sides during the summer. Judge Jackson plans to issue a ruling at the beginning of September.

NEAVS et al. are represented by Katherine Meyer, of the Washington, D.C. public interest law firm, Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP.

For more information see here.

Nancy Finn
Director of Communications & Marketing  
(o) 617 523 6020 (c) 781-258-5813