All chimpanzees have been tagged by the US as "endangered" from its previous designation, "threatened." The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Friday, June 12, 2015 that the new mandate under the Endangered Species Act will become official on June 16, 2015 and will have a 90-day grace period that will last until September 14, 2015.

The new rule means that captive chimpanzees in the US that are to be imported, exported and used for scientific research would require permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service. This is the same protocol that's been observed for wild chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees are the closest species to humans in terms of genetics. Here are some interesting facts about chimpanzees:

1. Human-like Characteristics

Just like humans, they have innate familial bonds in their natural habitat in the wild. They never stray away from their groups and families. They are highly social and stay together as they explore their surroundings, build new tools, play and care for each other. Maternal chimpanzees are typically protective and nurses their offspring by up to four to six years. They also practice cultural traditions and pass them on to their children. Just like humans, they also show empathy and support to their pained companions. They also show different emotions such as happiness when they are playing, grievance when they lost a loved one and pained expressions when they are terrified.

2. Feeding Habits

Chimpanzees eat with their hands, Their most common food items are fruits, plants, insects and honey. They sometimes eat meat and eggs too. They specifically feed on termites, which they poke and crush using a stick. They can also crack nuts open. Their feeding habits may vary depending on the season, as some of their preferred fruits and food items do not have abundant produce all the time. Occasionally, chimpanzees also hunt and kill young primates.

3. Population

Chimpanzees have wide populations in the past, particularly across the forests ranging from southern Senegal to western Uganda and western Tanzania. At present, concrete data are significantly lacking but it is estimated that the current populations of the specie is 150,000-200,000. Although this is still extensive, it has become notably small and broken. The regions with the the largest populations of chimpanzees are present include Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Cameroon.

In the early 1920s, the chimpanzees were subjected to trading as US scientists began using them for research. Baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from the Central and West Africa through aggressive means, such as killing protective mothers and adult chimpanzees. In the early 1950s, 65 baby chimpanzees were seized by members of the US Air Force for military flight experiments at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. These chimpanzees bore offsprings that were later used for researches about infectious diseases. As per estimates, more than 900 chimpanzees are still caged in US laboratories, with only 20 percent of the total population are actually being used for experiments. The remaining 80 percent are no longer needed and just are therefore maintained in laboratories.

The new announcement that enables the retirement of these laboratory-bounded chimpanzees creates "an incredible one-two punch for chimpanzee conservation," according to Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of The Humane Society, which is one of the groups that support the chimpanzees. Erika Fleury of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance also said that the new rule will finally halt the exploitation of the chimpanzees.

Photo: Dileep Kaluaratchie | Flickr

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