Published: 00:01, 13 August 2016
Animal welfare campaigners are urging a wildlife park to halt its efforts to bring seven laboratory chimpanzees from America to a new home near Canterbury.
Wingham Wildlife Park has already built a £1 million enclosure for the apes and say they are confident the chimps will be happy in their new home.
It will be a huge change for the animals, which have spent years at the Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Centre in Atlanta.
The park has the backing of chimp expert Jane Goodall who has visited Wingham and approved of the new facilities.
A permit for the exportation of the chimps has been granted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service but the process has been stalled after a group called Cruelty Free International filed legal action against the US FWS.
It wants the chimps to end their days in an American sanctuary rather than being transported thousands of miles to become “exhibits” in Kent.
A judge stopped the export proceedings while she learned more about details of a joint Wingham Wildlife Park and the Yerkes Centre project to support chimpanzee conservation in the wild as part of the process.
Chief executive of Cruelty Free International Michelle Thew said: “If these chimpanzees are imported into the UK, they will become part of a commercial exhibition at a zoo for public entertainment.
“This is not what they deserve after years of being trapped inside a laboratory and used in research. We call on Wingham Wildlife Park to do the right thing and act in the best interests of these chimpanzees.”
Wingham Wildlife Park Animal curator Marcus Wilder recently attended a court hearing in America and the judge is expected to make a ruling on September 1.
Mr Wilder said the park had invested heavily in time and resources to bring the chimps to the park and was “not considering” the possibility of the transfer being refused.
He fiercely rejected claims by Cruelty Free International and said the park was looking forward to being part of a new project with the Yerkes centre that will help chimpanzees in the wild in Africa and the residents of a poor rural community.
He said: “During the past few months, organisations who oppose the chimpanzee donation have made a number of incorrect claims about this project and our park in an attempt to discredit our credentials and practice with misinformation.
“Chimp expert Jane Goodall has visited the park and experienced for herself our enclosure which she said was ‘wonderful’.
“She also credited us with being committed to ensuring the long-term care of these chimpanzees and to enriching their lives.
“We’re proud the impact of this chimpanzee donation will not only provide the seven donated chimpanzees with a fabulous new home for life, but also lead to a unique new project to conserve chimpanzees in the wild.”