While the common chimpanzee is classified as an endangered species in its native Africa, chimps living in the United States are currently listed as “threatened.” The federal wildlife agency recently proposed cataloging all chimps to be endangered species. But why?

Chimpanzees are the only animal listed under the Endangered Species Act with more than one conservation listing, but for a good reason! In the 1990’s, chimpanzees were an important lab animal in regards to HIV and other medical research projects. Chimpanzees raised in captivity were labeled as threatened to ensure that there was a high population of available research animals and to ensure that chimps living in the wild would be left alone.

After a fresh look at the ESA law, some people believe that the bill does not legally allow any species to have more than one conservational listing. Note that legally changing the law to enforce the protection of chimpanzees as an endangered species has merely been proposed, and that it could take over a year before we see any concrete changes to the law regarding the breeding, sale, exportation, importation and care of chimpanzees in America.

While we don’t know when this large change would go into effect, or how this would directly affect chimpanzees working in the entertainment industry, it would certainly require anyone looking to perform animal testing, research, and trade chimps to acquire special licenses to work with endangered species. Either way, the government’s environmental agencies will have plenty of time to collaborate with the National Institutes of Health, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, expert medical researchers and leading entertainment industry to estimate the outcome of revising the conservation status of America’s chimpanzees.

Sources: Mother Nature Network, HuffPost Green, Scientific American