Animal rights groups are trying to block a permit allowing Yerkes National Primate Research Center to move eight of its chimpanzees abroad.
The coalition led by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, or NEAVS, filed a lawsuit Monday asking a federal judge to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to grant the permit.
Yerkes, which is part of Atlanta's Emory University, wants to donate the chimpanzees to Wingham Wildlife Park in England. The transfer is considered an export and requires a permit under the Endangered Species Act.
NEAVS has been fighting the move since the beginning of the permitting process, and it said the zoo is an unsuitable environment for former research chimps.
"What we're doing with these eight chimpanzees is retiring them from a life of research exploitation and sending them to a life of being on exhibition,” said Theodora Capaldo, who is president of NEAVS.
Captive chimpanzees were designated as an endangered species in June, and Capaldo said that should guarantee that the animals are transferred to an U.S. sanctuary instead.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Tim Van Norman, who oversees import and export permits, said his office reviewed the terms of the transfer and the zoo’s facility and found that Yerkes’ application complied with requirements for endangered species.
“It's not really for us to make a decision that there is a better facility within the United States. That's outside the purview of what our permitting process is,” Van Norman said.
In a statement, Yerkes National Primate Research Center said Wingham Wildlife Park originally approached them about acquiring the chimpanzees. The research center agreed to the donation after visiting the zoo, the statement said, and ensuring that the animals would receive the right level of care.
Yerkes’ permit application is the first filed since captive chimpanzees received the higher protection under U.S. law.