Animal Legal and Historical Center
Great Apes and the Law: A complete resource for the legal status of the Great Apes within the United States
Michigan State University College of Law

General information

Federal and International

Table of Federal Regulations Concerning Great Apes

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

Nigeria's Endangered Species (Control of International Trade and Traffic Act)


Specific State Information

  • Missouri
  • Florida
  • California
  • Texas
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The Great Apes Legal Project

Table of State Great Ape Possession Laws

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Support provided by the Arcus Foundation

Arcus Foundation

The legal control over the importation, possession and use of Great Apes in the United States is not located in any one point of our government; indeed, there are multiple control points at all three levels of government (federal, state and local) - but not in a predictable pattern.

The highest level of legal obligation is the international treaty CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) This treaty provides the highest level of protection for Great Ape species. Importation into the United States is controlled by in the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), which also implements the obligations of the U.S. as a member of the CITES treaty. Ongoing possession and use of great apes within the U.S. is covered for some animals under the federal Animal Welfare Act. However, possession of Great Apes is governed under state law, as these animals are considered personal property and property laws occur at the state level. Most states also allow local governments to adopt more restrictive or protective measures, and a large number of local governments have done so.This creates an inconsistent and inefficient patchwork of law and regulations.

The public policy about how to treat these animals is still changing, but with the adoption of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act of 2000 (CHIMP Act) the federal government has acknowledged that those chimpanzees under the control of the government should be provided with a life of retirement in a sanctuary. This is very expensive and it is not clear where the resources will come from to provide sanctuary locations for the large number of "retired" chimpanzees in the United States. Slowly, it appears that private ownership and control of great apes is becoming illegal in the United Sates. It is foreseeable that zoos and sanctuaries will be the only homes for all the Great Apes with in the United States. But, such is not yet the case.

At the same time, the different homelands of all the Great Apes are at risk of destruction, and the issues of bush meat and human war results in the deaths of many individuals. This website at the moment is focused upon the legal structure related to Great Apes within the United States. Perhaps in the future this website will be able to include laws from apes' home countries.