I recently returned from the United States where I participated in a court hearing about the chimpanzee export from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center to the Wingham Wildlife Park (WWP). This post focuses on that hearing and next steps, inaccuracies some are saying and reporting about the chimpanzee donation and our park, and more details about our proposed collaboration with the Population & Sustainability Network (PSN) to benefit chimpanzees in the wild.
Export Permit Lawsuit and Next Steps
Upon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) notice in late April that it intended to issue the Yerkes Research Center a permit to export chimpanzees to our park, a number of organizations and several individuals filed a lawsuit to stop the transfer.
The first hearing in the case was May 24. At the beginning of the hearing, Judge Ketanji Jackson stated she would not make a decision that day. While listening to her questions of all involved parties throughout the hearing, it became clear she needed more time to consider information previously submitted and to fully understand the FWS’ processes and record. The Yerkes Research Center offered that time to her, and the judge accepted.
While this means the chimpanzees will not be arriving with us this summer, it means Judge Jackson will have the time she needs to fully considering the case documents as well as additional information she requested.
One area for which Judge Jackson requested more information is the Yerkes/WWP/PSN collaboration to support chimpanzees in the wild. I have included information about our plans at the end of this post, but will say here that we look forward to being part of a unique new project that will help chimpanzees in the wild while empowering residents of a poor, rural community.
WWP and Yerkes remain dedicated to bringing the chimpanzees to the UK and giving them a loving home for life. We appreciate how much everyone is looking forward to the chimpanzees’ arrival and your patience during the permitting process. We look forward to seeing you at our park this summer. We have many other exhibits for you to enjoy, including our new dinosaur exhibit, which features 29 animatronic dinosaur models and brings the pre-historic era back to life for all our guests.
During the past few months, organisations who oppose the chimpanzee donation have made a number of claims about this project and our park that are incorrect. These include:
Discrediting Our Standards
Claiming we are an unaccredited zoo has been used on many occasions to discredit the work WWP does, the care we provide and the standards to which we adhere. Currently, we are not a member of an independent zoo association that charges steep fees, but we are fully licensed by the British government and adhere to the strict conditions of the Zoo Licensing Act. We believe our standards are higher now than when we were a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA).
Lack of Expert Support
While some repeatedly claim the world’s chimpanzee experts do not agree this move is a positive thing for these particular animals or chimpanzees as a whole, one key point is omitted: Only one chimpanzee expert has taken the time to visit the park and experience for herself our chimpanzee enclosure. We are grateful to Dr. Jane Goodall, one of, if not the, leading world expert on chimpanzees, for visiting our park and submitting a statement during the public comment period of the export application. In part, she wrote:
“I was able to visit Wingham, near Canterbury, UK last month and saw first-hand the wonderful extensive indoor and outdoor housing which has been purpose built to receive chimpanzees. The staff there are well-qualified, caring and have already visited Yerkes to meet the members of the group. The owners are committed to ensuring the long term care of these chimpanzees and to enriching their lives.”
You can see photos of Dr. Goodall’s December 2015 visit to our park on our Facebook page.
Animal Experiences have Negative Impact
Before I address misinformation about animal experiences, I want to be clear that WWP will never offer any such experiences with chimpanzees.
There is no proof the animal experiences at WWP have a negative impact on the animals and conservation, but we do have firsthand accounts that those who participate in supervised animal experiences build an emotional bond with the animal species.
The animal experiences we offer are much the same as those members of European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), BIAZA and the American Zoological Association (AZA) offer. We even developed our policies and procedures for animal experiences based on those of the European and American zoo associations. Our experiences are always closely supervised and could not be done without the approval of our local council.
In the EAZA guidelines for the use of animals in public demonstrations, which includes personal interactions, the organization states, “Zoos and aquaria provide unique animal experiences for guests, including passive exhibits, demonstrations and personal interactions, which have been proven to create an increase in proconservation behaviours.”
Though the AZA may claim animal experiences have a negative impact on conservation, a minimum of 50 percent of AZA member zoos offer some level of animal interaction activities. And, the AZA policy on ambassador animals, which includes animals with which visitors can have physical contact, states, “ambassador animals are powerful catalysts for learning.”
Gross Overstatement of Revenue
In a recent press article, it was claimed WWP stands to make at least $2.7 million more each year from exhibiting chimpanzees. In other sources, this claim has been as high as “tens of millions of dollars.” This is not only inaccurate but also a vast overestimation of our guest figures.
Population & Sustainability Network
The Yerkes Research Center and WWP plan to provide $45,000 per year over the next five years to the Population & Sustainability Network (PSN), the international program of a United Kingdom registered NGO. As well as being an international program, PSN is a network of NGOs, government and academic bodies promoting integrated and sustainable development.
With the Yerkes and WWP funding, PSN will, with its partners, launch a new program of integrated health enabling chimpanzee conservation and community empowerment. PSN has already invested significant time to develop this program, which will likely include:
• Removal of barriers to obtaining voluntary family planning information and services in a community living adjacent to a national park in East Africa with a population of chimpanzees. By reducing unplanned, and often unwanted pregnancies, , there will be reduced human-induced impacts on wild chimpanzees, such as habitat loss because there will be less pressure to use land for agricultural and other purposes;
• Targeting the primary causes and risk factors for communicable diseases to limit outbreaks and reduce the impact on wild chimpanzee populations in partnership with the local health facilities; and
• Conducting peer education through household visits and village heath talks on hygiene, sanitation and family planning topics and the interrelation of population pressures on local ecosystems, community health and the impact of bush meat, poaching and the pet trade on chimpanzees, all of which impact community livelihoods.
We’re proud the impact of this chimpanzee donation will not only provide the seven donated chimpanzees with a fabulous new home for life, but also lead to our support of a unique new project to conserve chimpanzees in the wild by empowering a poor rural community with health challenges that affect both the community and the wild chimpanzees.