By Rachel K Wentz ( | First Posted: Jun 16, 2015 01:13 PM EDT

(Photo : Lepidlizard )

Welcome news for animal rights advocates - new rules will extend the Endangered Species Act to provide protection, not only to chimpanzees in the wild, but to those in captivity, as well.

The new ruling will revamp what had been the only "split listing" in the Act's history, which protected wild chimps, but did little for those bought and sold for research, entertainment, or as exotic pets. The initial split listing was constructed primarily to allow the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue using captive chimps for experimental purposes.

Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the split decision was "flawed," and that the new rule "would correct this inconsistency."

"Extending captive chimpanzees the protections afforded their endangered cousins in the wild will ensure humane treatment and restrict commercial activities under the Endangered Species Act," Ashe says. "The decision responds to growing threats to the species and aligns the chimpanzee's status with existing legal requirements. Meanwhile, we will continue to work with range states to ensure the continued survival and recovery of chimpanzees in the wild."

Much of the push for the new rules came from the Human Society and the Jane Goodall Institute, with Ms. Goodall leading the charge for better treatment of captive chimps. The U.S. is the only developed nation that still uses apes for research. Although European countries continue to use other primates, such as macaques and spider monkeys, they banned the practice of using chimps years ago.

The new rules, which will go into effect in September, will require permits by Fish and Wildlife for the importing and exporting of chimpanzees across U.S. and state borders for biomedical research. The rules will be part of the latest effort in trying to thwart the rapid decline in chimpanzee populations. According to the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, fewer than 300,000 chimps remain in the wild, with millions lost due to habitat destruction and hunting.

The NIH had already decided at the beginning of the year to restrict further medical and behavior research on chimps. Of the nearly 400 captive chimps used for research, all but 50 will be retired and placed in sanctuaries. Those 50 will be kept for future research, according to NIH Director Francis S. Collins.

Ms. Goodall applauded the new rules.

"This will be enormously beneficial to individuals in inappropriate captive conditions," Goodall said, following the announcement. "As such it is a tremendously significant decision which will be welcomed by everyone concerned with the well-being of our closest living relatives."

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