The U.S. recently held its “midterm elections” in which many states (especially my own) had a massive shift in political power. Given the climate towards environmental issues is likely to change as a result (especially in the House of Representatives), I figured I would give some light to two bills worth noting: the Captive Primate Safety Act and the Great Ape Protection Act of 2010.
Captive Primate Safety Act
The Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R. 80/1329) serves as an amendment to the Lacey Act (one of the founding legislations for environmental conservation law in America back in 1900) and as a response to the effects of the pet trade on natural wildlife populations and because of cases wherein captive primates assault and cause physical harm to their “owners.” Under this law, the following would be considered unlawful:
[Makes it] unlawful for a person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase a live animal of any prohibited wildlife species in interstate or foreign commerce (i.e., for pet trade purposes). Sets forth exceptions to such prohibition, including, under certain conditions, for: (1) transporting a nonhuman primate to or from a veterinarian; (2) transporting a nonhuman primate to a legally designated caregiver as a result of the death of the preceding owner; and (3) transporting a single primate of the genus Cebus that was obtained from and trained by a charitable organization to assist a permanently disabled individual with a severe mobility impairment. Sets forth civil and criminal penalties for violations of the requirements of this Act.
This bill is making future actions of any sort of pet ownership illegal as opposed to taking immediate effect and affecting all current primate pet owners. Although I personally do not condone primates as pets (or “monkids”), logistically and economically, this is a preferable action.
I say this not because I believe that current pet owners should be able to keep their primates, but because it would be a very quick and very momentous burden upon non-profit primate sanctuaries which would be the new likely caretakers. Most of these facilities give sources of income mostly to the primates they care for and often have little to offer to workers. With an increase in primates from the potential 15,000 pet primates that would have to be surrendered from immediate response, this would increase the financial strain of these organizations significantly and potentially bankrupt them, resulting in a strain for primate welfare in order to meet demand.
Additionally, I find it interesting that a “legally designated caregiver” is one of the exceptions, but isn’t exactly clearly defined. Is the designated caregiver required to be a primate caretaker in so much as someone trained to work with primates? Or can it be just an average individual who inherited the captive primate from a family friend?
Great Ape Protection Act of 2010
The Great Ape Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3694) is a new bill that was introduced to the Senate Environment and Public Works in August of 2010. A similar act was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009, but has largely been inactive for some time now, much like the Captive Primate Safety Act.
This bill tends to focus more on the ethical matters of animal research when considering the great apes and their likenesses to human primates. This act would prohibit the following from occurring:
(1) conducting invasive research on great apes; (2) knowingly breeding, possessing, renting, loaning, donating, purchasing, selling, housing, maintaining, leasing, borrowing, transporting, moving, delivering, or receiving a great ape for the purpose of conducting such research; or (3) using federal funds to conduct such research. Defines “invasive research” as research that may cause death, bodily injury, pain, distress, fear, injury, or trauma to great apes, including drug testing or exposure to a substance that may be detrimental to the ape’s health or psychological well-being. Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other appropriate federal authorities to provide for the permanent retirement of all great apes that are owned or under the control of the federal government and that are being maintained in any facility for the purpose of breeding for, holding for, or conducting invasive research. Sets forth civil penalties for violations of this Act.
It is worth noting here that the distinction is made for invasive research as opposed to behavioral—which is typically non-invasive. Unlike the Captive Primate Safety Act, I expect this one to be challenged for a few reasons:
One, the United States happens to have the largest body of research on chimpanzees with an estimated 1,300 specimens within labs across the country. While the argument against using chimpanzees in invasive, biomedical research is because of sympathizing over a majority of shared genetics and the advanced cognition and social skills (among many other reasons), this could also be perceived as a reason for research. For example, chimpanzees are used in HIV/AIDS biomedical research because they are the natural host of the virus. In addition to new information recently coming to light about chimpanzees also suffering from AIDS-like symptoms in the wild, this certainly makes chimpanzees an attractive model for examining the virus further.
Two, although I personally lean on the side of banning invasive, captive research on great apes, I do wonder about the potential for another zoonotic disease event to occur which might mandate the use of invasive research to be able to save human (and non-human primate) lives.
However, I will say this: if we would ban invasive primate research, it certainly would save a pretty penny. Chimpanzees are very expensive to keep in captivity because of their extended life histories, cage-size requirements (given that chimpanzees can average 5’6″, they need large cages), and expensive omnivorous diet.
Outside of these challenges, I’m suspicious by the decision to have the Secretary of Health and Human Services among other, non-identified “appropriate federal authorities” make decisions along these lines. At the risk of generalizing and being presumptuous here, I’m actually curious to know how many of these individuals are aware of the differences between the great apes and monkeys. Certainly, this would mean possible good news for primatologists (consulting jobs! Hurrah!), I’m not so sure I feel as if the HHS ought to be the department in charge of such an action. Why not the Department of Wildlife Services? I realize we’re unable to return these primates to their natural habitat, but it seems like a decision made more on the side of biomedical research as opposed to actual primate welfare.
There is one significant difference about these two bills that blows my mind: the contrast in consequence for violation. In the Captive Primate Safety Act, if one violates, they could potentially receive either civil penalties or criminal penalties. Whereas, in the Great Ape Protection Act, one who is in violation only receives civil penalties. I’m not sure where the disparity comes into play here, but it would be beneficial for the Great Ape Protection Act to readjust the repercussions of violation as it possibly suggests invasive research and the harm thereof is less significant than the potential neglect or ignorance of primate welfare overall. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.
Regardless, primates are finally starting to get the legal recognition they deserve. Although it remains to be seen if any of these bills will become a law, especially in the recent change in political structure, I have hopes that we’re starting to get onto the right track with consideration to wildlife conservation law and I hope that this can be a continued trend for the future of primates everywhere.