Federal law forbids the sale, import, or export of endangered animals. But there are loopholes in that law that rankle wildlife and legal experts.
IN LATE OCTOBER, an SUV hauling a trailer bearing seven cages marked “live animal” pulled into Wingham Wildlife Park, a zoo in Kent, England. The cages had been loaded off a plane that flew across the Atlantic from Atlanta and were “carrying a very precious cargo, one the park has been working on for more than three years,” according to a press release issued soon after.
The cargo: seven chimpanzees, aged 21 to 39, all of whom had been the subject of behavioral research for decades at Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta. Their usefulness in that regard ended last year, when the federal government stopped funding experiments involving the primates, and listedcaptive chimpanzees as an endangered species.
Their arrival in the U.K. signaled the end of a drawn-out battle pitting animal rights groups, legal scholars, and many scientists against both the Yerkes lab and Wingham park — a saga that reached its climax in September when a federal judge struck down the final challenge of activists who had sued to block the shipment of the chimpanzees abroad. That cleared the way for the journey to Wingham — but in issuing her decision, the judge also delivered a stinging rebuke of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that issued the original permit to Yerkes for shipping the animals, and whose mandate includes enforcing the Endangered Species Act.
The agency’s broad interpretation of the act, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson declared, “appears to thwart the dynamic of environmental protection that Congress plainly intended when it mandated that no export of endangered species be allowed.”