Japanese macaques, along with 11 other primate species were first listed as threatened on October 19, 1976 by FWS. However, by special rule, 50 C.F.R. §17.40(c)(2) captive members of these species were exempted from protections under the Endangered Species Act by FWS. Now, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has petitioned FWS to correct what they describe as the unlawful deprivation of protection under the ESA. See Petition to Include the Captive Members of the Species of Primates Enumerated in 50 C.F.R. §17.40(c) as Protected Members of their Respective Species Under the Endangered Species Act.
PETA based its petition, at least in part, on FWS’s relisting captive chimpanzees as endangered species, along with their previously listed wild counterparts. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Listing All Chimpanzees as Endangered Species, 80 Fed. Reg. 34500 (June 16, 2015). . In 2015 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a final rule to classify all chimpanzees, both wild and captive, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Until this change, only wild chimpanzees were listed as endangered while captive chimpanzees were listed as threatened.
“We are listing all chimpanzees, whether in the wild or in captivity, as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We have determined that the Act does not allow for captive chimpanzees to be assigned separate legal status from their wild counterparts on the basis of their captive state, including through designation as a separate distinct population segment (DPS). It is also not possible to separate out captive chimpanzees for different legal status under the Act by other approaches. Therefore, we are eliminating the separate classification of chimpanzees held in captivity and listing the entire species, wherever found, as an endangered species under the Act.”
FWS will only issue permits for studies of chimpanzees “only for scientific purposes to benefit wild chimpanzees or to enhance the propagation or survival of chimpanzees, including habitat restoration and research on chimpanzees in the wild that contributes to improved management and recovery.”
If FWS adopts this position for the species currently listed as threatened, more than 316 Japanese macaques involved in research at various biomedical research facilities would be subject to the same fate as many chimpanzees, who unfortunately died when moved to “sanctuaries” since they were not permitted to remain under the care of knowledgeable and trained experts at research facilities. See Dr. Collins please save our chimps, by Cindy Buckmaster.
Regardless of the outcome of this petition, these animals should remain in facilities where they can be properly cared for, and, if at all possible, the research they have been involved with should be completed so that it is not a loss.
 One of the original 12 primates was relisted as endangered in 1990.