WASHINGTON – Jane Goodall has uneven thumbs.
The renowned chimpanzee researcher's right thumb was bitten off at the knuckle by a chimp,testimony to their volatile mood swings.
She held up her hands for the House Fisheries,Wildlife and Oceans subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee at a hearing Tuesday. She testified in support of two bills that would extend federal protection to nonhuman primates,prohibiting their sale as private pets,and to bears,which are being poached for their gallbladders.
The Captive Primate Safety Act,sponsored by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson,D-Texas,would prohibit most buying or selling of nonhuman primates – including great apes and smaller monkeys – in interstate or foreign commerce. Zoos and some other organizations would be exempt.
Pet primates pose serious health dangers,said Gail Golab,of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Primates can be carriers of tuberculosis,herpes B,polio and yellow fever,and “transmission of disease is bi-directional.”
Goodall,author and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute,said the animals “don't make good pets” for a variety of reasons. A chimpanzee at age 5 can be stronger than an adult man,making the animals difficult to take care of or house.
The number of privately owned nonhuman primates in the U.S. is estimated to exceed 15,000. Goodall and Golab said animals are traded over the Internet.
Sian Evans,of Uniting a Proactive Primate and Exotic Animal League,defended pet owners who love their monkeys or apes.
“As far as I'm aware,there is no documentation of all pet primates being a threat to public health,” Evans said. It is a disservice to the animals,she added,to describe them as dangerous,when many owners are strongly bonded and dedicated to their nonhuman primate pets.
Goodall acknowledged the attachments.
“Of course,there are going to be wonderful bonds between a particular nonhuman primate and a particular human,a particular child,” she said. “And it can be wonderful,but most people simply aren't able to deal with nonhuman primates in their home.”
The Captive Primate Safety Act is similar to the Captive Wildlife Safety Act,passed unanimously in 2003,which prohibited trade of lions,tigers and other big cats,as pets.
The hearing really heated up when it came to the bear gallbladder legislation.
The Bear Protection Act of 2008,sponsored by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva,D-Ariz.,would eliminate poaching of bears for their gallbladders. The gall,or bile,is used in Asian medicines. Local and international black markets have sprung up to provide gall in countries where the bear population is dwindling.
In the U.S.,states have different policies on trade of bear parts. Some poachers illegally kill bears and take their bladders to neighboring states that permit their sale. Similarly,there is no unified international policy on bear parts.
A retired criminal investigator for the National Park Service,Skip Wessinger,testified about a sting operation he lead in Elkton,Va.,near the Shenandoah National Park.
Over three years,a team of park officers sold gallbladders from black bears. The investigation netted more than 100 arrests and charged more than 700 wildlife crimes.
“There were many,many customers who would have purchased two or three times the quantity of bear parts that were offered,” Wessinger said. He noted that the officers frequently rationed sales so they could sell to multiple buyers.
One-third of the buyers in Elkton acted as middlemen to resell the bear parts.
The Bear Protection Act divides hunters.
Ray Schoenke,president of the American Hunters and Shooters Association,said his group supports the bill because it is “narrowly crafted to address the bear trade without affecting hunting.”
Though most black bear populations in the U.S. are healthy and growing,Schoenke said hunters fear illegal poaching for bear parts will endanger the bear numbers.
Rep. Don Young,D-Alaska,asked Schoenke,”Where do you come off supporting this bill?”
When Schoenke started to respond,Young cut him off and yelled,”You're the fringe group! You're the fringe group!”
Young left before the hearing was over,but admonished the committee,saying that for the sake of hunters they should ensure that not all bears would be covered by the bill.
Goodall weighed in on the bear debate. She said the “barbaric practice” would be easier to stop internationally if the U.S. stood up to poachers.
“Killing bears for their parts is not appropriate in the civilized world,” she said.