The Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a proposal to protect all chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act.
While wild chimpanzees have long been recognized as endangered, those in captivity are listed as "threatened," a status that offers less protection.
The agency said that if made final, the proposal would require a permit to use chimps in medical research. Interstate sales of chimps also would require a permit.
About 2,000 chimps are held in captivity in the United States.
A coalition of organizations that petitioned FWS to take the action - including The HSUS, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, The Fund for Animals and Humane Society International - applauded the agency's proposed rule.
"I thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its thorough scientific review of the chimpanzee's status and for the intention to protect chimpanzees from harm and exploitation regardless of whether they are in the wild or in captivity," said Dr. Jane Goodall.
Diana Goodrich with Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest also applauded the proposal, saying "As a sanctuary that cares for seven chimpanzees formerly used as pets, entertainers, and biomedical test subjects and works for the protection of all great apes, CSNW has eagerly awaited a decision which would recognize the perilous situation that our closest living relatives face, both in their native habitat and in captivity."
"The FWS announcement comes just two days before the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the chimpanzees to the sanctuary and the honorary 40th birthday of the oldest resident, Negra, who spent 35 years in biomedical laboratories before coming to the sanctuary," Goodrich said.
PETA issued a statement, saying if the proposed rule is adopted and properly enforced, Hollywood would be forced to stop using chimpanzees in television, ads, and movies.
"Laboratories would also be forced to stop using chimpanzees in invasive, painful, and lethal experiments - a recommendation that the National Institutes of Health has already made. And the FWS' decision will impact at least one other species: The government now has no justification for denying PETA's petition to include Lolita, the sole captive orca at the Miami Seaquarium, in the ESA's listing of Southern Resident orcas."
The HSUS says populations of wild chimpanzees have fallen more than 65 percent in the last 30 years, primarily due to habitat loss and poaching, which is driven in part by U.S. exploitation of captive chimpanzees in the entertainment, pet, and biomedical industries.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it will work with the National Institutes of Health, zoos and other groups to consider implications of the new listing.
Submit your comments
The proposed rule is subject to a public comment period. Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before August 12, 2013. Send your comments to USFW.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.