Session One: Perspectives on Animal Welfare Considerations Between Laboratory Animal and Free-Ranging Fish and Wildlife Field Research
Moderator: Anne Maglia, University of Massachusetts Lowell
Ann Maglia, associate vice chancellor for Research Administration and Integrity, opened Session One by providing an overview of and context for the workshop, along with some perspectives from field biologists who conduct wildlife research and from representatives of organizations that regulate, guide, or fund animal research and educational activities. Operative terms, including the regulatory use of the term “field studies” were noted. Speakers provided key similarities and differences between animal welfare issues in the context of wildlife research versus traditional biomedical research. Speakers explored the common challenges encountered when working with free-ranging wildlife in the field, the myriad of logistical and regulatory constraints that affect how fieldwork is carried out, and the many benefits wildlife research offers for enhancing understanding of the unique biology of a wide array of diverse species, how they interact with their ecosystem, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.
INTRODUCTION TO WILDLIFE RESEARCH CHALLENGES AND ANIMAL WELFARE
Robert S. Sikes, professor of biology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and field biologist who spent his career working exclusively with wildlife, provided an overview of the challenges involving wild animals within the framework of animal oversight and use for research. Sikes’s background in the arena of animal oversight includes currently serving as co-chair of the American Society of Mammalogists’ Animal Care and Use Committee, where he has been senior author of the two most recent editions of the Guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for the Use of Wild Mammals in Research and Education (Sikes and Gannon 2011; Sikes 2016).
Sikes said that the nature of the challenges of including wild animals in research can be divided into two primary areas: the animals and the activities involved. In addition to environmental differences between the controlled environments in laboratory animal facilities and non-captive settings, there are also key differences between wild animals and the animal models typically used in biomedical research, he said. These include the fact that the subject animals in wildlife research are not domesticated, and they are, at least initially, free-ranging. There is a diversity of species, environments, and behaviors in these animals that is not related to what is observed by researchers in laboratory animal research. The animals themselves are the focus of the research, and they are not merely used as models for humans. Finally, he added, because these animals are free-ranging, they are in fact state-owned and considered a public trust resource. They cannot be the property of the individual doing the research or the institution in which the research is being conducted. They belong to the public in almost all countries. This brings in permitting regulations and requirements that have no parallels in the biomedical environment.
Sikes went on to explain that the activities are much more diverse in wildlife research. Research objectives can be ecological or physiological, he said. They may concern conservation, they may concern behavior. All of these types of studies involve different approaches. These different components fall under different jurisdictions. That means for wildlife research to be conducted legally, Sikes said, the oversight bodies and the investigators have to be cognizant of the entities that have jurisdiction in these various areas and make sure that they are complying with the required regulations.
Sikes added that terminology also can present additional obstacles, and this applies to terms that are commonly used by field researchers or oversight bodies but have specific definitions within the regulatory framework or guidance documents that are used. One example of these terms is “field study.”
This is a term that has a specific regulatory definition by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and that definition is often in conflict with the way it is commonly used by field biologists, which is also echoed in the comments from the USDA perspective. Another example is the use of the term “euthanasia,” Sikes said. He added that it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is to identify not only the challenges but also the various entities and actions that are needed to address these challenges going forward.
Sikes offered as an example of challenges in reviewing the taxon guidelines for capture and handling of wild species. He said that a common theme that came through in all of these taxon guidelines was that the subject animals were not domesticated, which means that fitting them into a framework designed for domesticated species poses a challenge from the start. For domesticated Canis lupus (the domestic dog), for example, humans are viewed as the provider of food, shelter, and play items. For wild strains of Canis lupus, however, humans are typically viewed as potential predators; and hence, are stressors. These fundamental differences entirely alter how people interact with these animals, Sikes said.
Wild animal subjects are, at least initially, free-ranging, Sikes explained, so regardless of the type of data collected from these animals, the process first involves finding them. Once found, data are captured or collected remotely if that is possible. For example, forms of remote data collection include the use of drones for more proximal sample collection (e.g., exhaled whale breath) and higher altitude flights for morphometrics (e.g., image capture). Sikes said that activities that involve remote data collection typically do not require approval from an oversight body such as the IACUC and, hence, they are not the type of activities that are the subject of this workshop. If on the other hand, animals need to be captured or collected, the first step is to identify a suitable means of capture. Depending on the target species and methods employed, researchers often have little control over the age, sex, reproductive status, number, or perhaps even species of animals that might be taken in a given capture attempt. Most of the capture techniques, such as a trap for small mammals, are not species-specific. One does not know what type of individual might have been captured in that trap, for example, using nets to capture fish, or drift fences for herptiles. The capture of non-target species and variable numbers of animals that may be captured are issues that have no parallel in the laboratory environment, but they are constant challenges with wildlife. Non-target animals in wildlife research are part and parcel of being in the field, he said.
Building on his point that the main differences between wildlife research and typical laboratory animal research is that the animals are not domesticated, Sikes pointed out that biomedical research typically involves a limited number of species. Even the strains selected are often highly inbred specifically to reduce genetic variability or statistical noise around the phenomenon of interest, he said. Additionally, there are few details with regard to clinical history, reproductive status, parasitism, and even nutrition of wildlife versus animals used in biomedical research. There are only about 37 species of domesticated vertebrates depending on which source you consult, Sikes noted, and more than 95% of the individuals used in biomedical research can be accounted for by only a handful of species. He said that about 99% of those are going to be Mus musculus (the lab mouse), Rattus norvegicus (the lab rat), Danio rerio (the zebra fish), with just a handful of dogs, agricultural animals, rabbits, other small rodents, and primates.
In contrast, Sikes pointed out, there are in excess of 73,000 species of wild vertebrates, each of which is a potential study subject. These diverse species occupy equally diverse habitats, and they differ profoundly in virtually every parameter that one might care to measure. This diversity presents an enormous challenge for anybody concerned with the ethical oversight or regulation of these animals because what is appropriate and reasonable for one species might well be inappropriate and unethical for the next species, Sikes said. Not only are the species different but also the types of questions posed and the reasons for those questions differ profoundly from those of biomedical research.
Another difference, Sikes said, is that in biomedical research, the animal models are typically used as surrogates for humans in biomedical research that often benefits animals as well, although the primary focus is to improve human health and well-being. In other words, he said, for biomedical research, humans are the ultimate beneficiaries. For wildlife research, the objectives are most often to understand the biology, ecology, evolution, behavior, or health (e.g., reproductive success and body
condition) of the wild animals themselves, Sikes explained. These factors are the basis for management and for coexisting with these species. Rather than animals being surrogates as in biomedical research, in wildlife research the animals themselves are the primary focus, and most often the ultimate beneficiaries.
These different foci for wildlife research should now be in sharp focus for the entire world, Sikes indicated, given many recent headlines and publications regarding declining biodiversity. The data are becoming increasingly clear, Sikes added, that we are now in a sixth mass extinction event, and this is the first one that is linked specifically to human activities. Human influences, including habitat alteration on a local scale are affecting local populations of animals, along with the harvesting of animal populations for human use, and the multiple impacts of climate change. Many ecological studies have demonstrated that ecological stability is positively correlated with its community diversity, Sikes added, so it is in society’s best interest to preserve biodiversity on a broad scale. However, he said, preserving biodiversity requires knowledge of the species and their natural systems, which is exactly the type of research that is the focus of this workshop.
Populations of wild animals originally were, and for many species still are, viewed as economic resources, Sikes said; for example, the harvest of beaver for their pelts that led to much of the early exploration of North America; the harvest of American bison for their pelts and for meat; the harvest of whales for meat and oil; and the harvest of many species today for food either for humans or for other animals that are maintained by societies. Because harvest pressures adversely impacted populations, laws and regulations were established, often with international cooperation, to manage the exploitation of these animal populations. Examples of this include the limits on the number and size of individuals that can be harvested, and in some cases, outright bans on the harvesting of many species when the populations are threatened. Sikes said that while these regulations were aimed primarily at management, navigating applicable laws and regulations focused on preserving and protecting populations is an ongoing challenge for investigators and oversight bodies alike.
Anticipating the next session that highlights the differences in the laws, regulations, and permits associated with work involving wildlife, Sikes gave a brief overview of how these regulations and guidance documents came about, and how they were expanded to include wildlife. Sikes emphasized that this history is focused on animal use and the ethical handling of animals used in research, not in management. Key dates include the 1953 establishment of the Institute of Animal Resources (renamed the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research [ILAR]), which was originally intended to develop a procurement mechanism for animals that were destined for use in biomedical research, he said. Ten years later the Guide for the Laboratory Animal Facilities and Care (now named the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals [the Guide]) was published as the standard for animal care and biomedical research. The next key event Sikes noted was the passage of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1966 (7 U.S.C. §§ 2131–2159; 18 U.S.C. § 49), which was prompted in large part by public response to the use of dogs destined for use in biomedical research and was quickly signed into law; the Act authorized the USDA to regulate the use of vertebrate animals in research and remained focused primarily on laboratory research until 1985, he said.
Key events include the passage of the Health Research Extension Act (HREA) in 1985 (Public Law 99-158) and promulgation of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals in 1986, which extended coverage to most vertebrate species. Importantly, this policy and the HREA linked eligibility for PHS funding to compliance with the PHS policy, Sikes said. Now a central part of this policy is that it requires research to be conducted in a manner consistent with the Guide, which makes the Guide quasi-regulatory (NRC 2011). He also noted that in 1986 the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other U.S. federal granting agencies voluntarily adopted this PHS policy, but the NSF recognized that the Guide was a difficult fit for wildlife, particularly for field research. As it funded quite a bit of this field research, the NSF asked for the taxon societies to develop guidelines, specifically to address the absences in the Guide for the use of wildlife and non-model species, Sikes explained. As a consequence, in 1987 and 1988, taxon-specific guidelines were produced by several taxon societies. They covered the use of fishes, herptiles, mammals, and birds.
Sikes went on to explain some of the major challenges of wildlife research. First, he said, wild animals are initially free-ranging and part of a wild population, which means that research activities can potentially impact these native populations and communities. Some species pose serious risks to humans because they are inherently dangerous or venomous, Sikes added. Similarly, free-ranging animals are potential hosts to a range of natural pathogens and parasites that can be transferred to humans. Sikes added that oversight bodies for which wildlife is not a major portion of their portfolio do not fully appreciate the significant risks of research personnel inadvertently spreading pathogens in wild populations of animals. The current coronavirus pandemic underscores the fact that many of these agents can be spread broadly and rapidly among diverse populations, Sikes added. Biosafety concerns could be viewed from both the perspective of safeguarding the well-being of human investigators and ensuring the continued health of natural populations.
Capturing and handling methods are tailored to the species and to the environment, Sikes explained. In many cases and depending on the species, animals often can be handled by experienced researchers quietly and swiftly to minimize the stress associated with human presence or prolonged handling time. Regardless of whether sedation is required, Sikes said, challenges associated with handling include tailoring procedures to the species and to the conditions. Sedation often presents an additional challenge in the use or transport of controlled substances, which is often conducted by non-veterinarians; and is best conducted in a manner consistent with the regulations in the country the activities are taking place. As with the potential inadvertent introduction of pathogens into natural populations, the use of chemical compounds can have broader unintended effects, as well, Sikes said. As mentioned by Michael Stoskopf later in Session Eight, this could also include potential implications for hunter harvested animals and potential contaminated meat, particularly in the Arctic or Pacific Northwest.
Wildlife veterinary medicine is a specialty all its own, Sikes noted. There are many procedures and a wide range of activities for which veterinary input and involvement are critical. Because of this diversity and wildlife veterinary medicine being a niche specialty within itself, locating the needed expertise can be a challenge, whether the veterinarian is part of the field crew or not. This is where broad collaborations and engaging outside consultants, whether by veterinarians, investigators, or oversight bodies, can pay huge dividends, Sikes stated.
Sikes said that humanely euthanizing animals is a necessity for many reasons. Injuries resulting from research activities are the responsibility of the researcher, but often, he said, the most realistic course of action for serious injuries is euthanasia, rather than treatment. These are wild animals, so bringing a wild animal into captivity for treatment often is not feasible. Often in field circumstances the conditions and constraints make it difficult or impossible to meet the conditions for euthanasia detailed in the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals (AVMA Euthanasia Guidelines) (AVMA 2020), Sikes explained. As a consequence, the methods of death are more often termed lethal take, humane termination, or the like. Regardless of the definition and the term used, the ethical expectation always remains that the end of the animal’s life comes in the most humane manner possible, Sikes said. It is common for research objectives to require samples, or perhaps the entire carcass from dead animals, so lethal take or capture, and then humane termination, are often required. He noted the challenges in these situations, including selecting methods for humane termination that are consistent with the species, research objectives, and environmental limitations; not subjecting the animal to additional undue stress or distress; and selecting methods that are applicable within the existing regulations that are available and usable by field personnel.
Sikes explained that in studying wild animals the final concern is the disposition of the captive animals. In most cases these animals cannot be returned to the wild for a number of reasons. They have no familiarity with their native environment if they are out of that environment for long, he said, and putting them back can pose a risk for the natural populations. In most cases there are regulations that prohibit the release of animals that have been in captivity back to the native environment, except in the case of endangered species or species of special concern. It is important to comply with all of the regulations regarding the potential release of these animals, he said.
Sikes closed by emphasizing that because of the growth and development of regulations, guidance, and jurisdictions of many different entities, addressing the challenges in a meaningful way will likely benefit from a cooperative approach. He concluded that “having a reasonable chance of preserving much of the Earth’s diversity means meeting those challenges head on.”
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION PERSPECTIVE
Anne Maglia, who previously served as program director and animal welfare officer at the NSF and is now at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, discussed the breadth and importance of NSF-funded wildlife research along with the key animal welfare challenges facing wildlife researchers.
The NSF funds research addressing a wide variety of basic research questions about the physiology and ecology of a broad diversity of species and environments. In general, Maglia said that wildlife research focuses on the animals as they are, rather than on their value as models for human health and disease. Examples of ongoing NSF-funded research include studies of the evolution of cooperative behavior in bats, water intake and metabolism in birds, development and functional impact of genetic variation in fish, hidden biodiversity of salamanders, evolutionary mechanisms of co-migrating birds, and environmental responses in mice. Maglia continued, research activities employ a broad range of study designs from field-based observational studies to investigations of captured wild animals in the laboratory. Maglia said that concerns about conservation and ecological protection often influence study designs for wildlife research. For example, there may be a limited number of animals available for observation or collection and researchers often seek to “maximize sample sizes” and “optimize data collection” so that their samples and data can be reused in future research. Later in Session One, Jeff Wyatt, professor and chair of comparative medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, pointed out, wild animals may also be bioindicators of ecosystem health (e.g., for microplastics, contaminants of emerging concern, or persistent organic pollutants).
The NSF requires researchers to follow the Guide and supplement with taxon-specific wildlife guidelines, though Maglia noted that some of the taxon-specific guidelines have not been recently updated and some aspects of the Guide do not align well with wildlife research activities. She described several key animal welfare challenges NSF-funded wildlife researchers have encountered. First, she said that anesthesia or euthanasia practices developed for captive-bred animal models do not always have the same effect on wild animals. The protocols for the feeding and care of captive-bred animals can be detrimental to wildlife taken into the laboratory; for example, frequent changes of water can be detrimental to aquatic frogs and frequent bedding changes can interfere with animal communications that may be important to behavioral research. For researchers in the field, it can be difficult to use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles that fog up, especially at night, and in some cases gloves can make it difficult to capture and handle wildlife with minimal impact, Maglia explained. Some field sites may be so remote that they have no internet or cell service, which can make it difficult to implement standard IACUC protocols, like inspections. These may be difficult to do virtually, or it may be difficult to find a third party to rely on to conduct the inspections, she said.
Another challenge facing wildlife researchers is that often the field component of the research is done in a different country than their home country or the country through which they are funded, Maglia said. While not impossible to navigate, this certainly adds complexities to studies and points to the importance of good communications and an understanding of local rules and regulations. An additional challenge she noted is that, particularly at small institutions, the attending veterinarian and the IACUC may not have the appropriate taxonomic or wildlife expertise needed to evaluate wildlife research activities. Despite being able to tap into external expertise, IACUCs may not be aware of whom to contact for guidance on wildlife research and often they must rely on the investigator to provide guidance on the names of experts, she explained. While this latter challenge is not necessarily detrimental, it could present the appearance of conflict or a lack of independence in review, she said. Another challenge, Maglia continued, is that some field sites, especially in remote locations and/or smaller institutions, do not have the infrastructure or resources to support standard housing protocols. This can be especially challenging if
the studies also require conducting and facilitating recovery from minor surgeries, for example, embedding radio-telemetry devices.
Maglia added that organizations that receive NSF funding for field research, but no other federal funds for animal research such as museums and independent field stations, may have challenges obtaining a PHS Animal Welfare Assurance, which is required in order to receive an NSF award. While this is mainly a policy or agency issue, researchers can find themselves stuck between the agencies because it affects their ability to get funding and to conduct their research in a timely manner.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE PERSPECTIVE
Carol L. Clarke, research program manager for the USDA APHIS–Animal Care, discussed the key regulatory definitions under the AWA, and the challenges encountered by IACUCs and research facilities when using wildlife in research.
The AWA, which was passed in 1966, requires the provision of humane care and the reduction of pain and distress in covered species during regulated activities. Warm-blooded animals like dogs, cats, and non-human primates are covered by the AWA; however, rats, mice, and birds bred for research; horses not used in research; and livestock and poultry used for agricultural purposes are exempt from AWA regulatory requirements, Clarke explained. Under the AWA regulations, a wild animal is defined as any animal that is now, or has historically been, found in the wild or in the wild state within the boundaries of the United States, its territories or possessions. A wild state is defined as an animal living in its original, natural condition; and is not domesticated.
The challenge the IACUCs face when reviewing wildlife study protocols is determining whether the activity is covered or exempt from the AWA regulatory requirements, Clarke said. The USDA provided guidance to assist IACUCs in making this determination. This guidance centers on whether the proposed activity meets the regulatory definition of a field study. Clarke provided examples of exempted and regulated activities within the context of the AWA definition of a field study, as shown in Figure 1-1.
Research facilities that hold wildlife in-house face challenges in providing the appropriate standards of care for the species held, Clarke added. Consideration under the AWA regulatory requirements include but are not limited to space, nutrition, and sanitation. Research facilities also face challenges in completing the annual report they are required to provide to comply with the AWA. Only AWA-covered species used in AWA-regulated activities are listed on the report. Wildlife used in activities that meet the regulatory definition of a field study are not to be indicated on the annual report.
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH’S OFFICE OF LABORATORY ANIMAL WELFARE PERSPECTIVE
Nicolette Petervary, part of the Division of Policy and Education within the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), outlined some of the main difficulties that both regulators and IACUCs face in research involving the use of free-living wild animals and reframed them as opportunities for collaborative and productive problem solving.
She began by stating that the HREA provides the statutory mandate for the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (HHS 2015). The PHS policy implements this mandate and also requires adherence to several additional guidance documents, she continued. These documents include the Guide (NRC 2011), the AVMA Euthanasia Guidelines (AVMA 2020), and, where applicable, the AWA and the AWA regulations (APHIS 1966). While the PHS policy is well suited to provide guidance for biomedical research, there is little guidance on research involving free-living wild animals, Petervary said. As with the HREA, the focus is primarily on traditional animal models in the laboratory. She said that there are many challenges to applying it to field research and even to research using some non-domesticated species in a laboratory setting. The PHS policy makes no specific mention to research on free-living wild animals. The Guide does mention field research, she added, but the information is
brief and general with only four paragraphs on field research (NRC 2011, p. 32) and indicates that the basic principles of humane care and use apply to animals living under natural conditions.
These generalized, flexible approaches can help institutions, but also present challenges to both regulators and the regulated community, Petervary explained. The NIH OLAW has clarified some guidance in its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). FAQ A.6 talks about the PHS policy that applies to animal research being conducted in the field and provides the list of information that must be provided to the IACUC. If the IACUC determines it is purely observational, with no impact to the animals (i.e., will not alter or influence the activity of the study animal), no animal use protocol (AUP) is required; although impact is really challenging to evaluate, she noted. For example, she asked, if animals see or smell the researchers, does that impact animal behavior even if no trapping or invasive procedures are performed? And, if so, how long and how significantly? What about the effects on offspring, mating, and prey species? She also asked how the IACUC can work with researchers to answer such questions. The NIH OLAW guidance in FAQ E.4 further states that IACUCs need not conduct inspections of field sites, but there are health and safety and animal welfare issues to consider. She suggested that IACUCs be apprised of study circumstances for purposes of assessing personnel risks and impacts on study subjects. This can be accomplished by photographs and videos. The NIH OLAW has also provided educational webinars on permits and on the oversight of wildlife research, Petervary added. Although the NIH OLAW does provide some guidance on the Guide requirements, there are many unique issues to wildlife research that merit consideration.
Some Guide requirements are especially challenging to apply in wildlife research settings. The use of the words “must” and “should” in the Guide can be challenging to apply in field research settings. One “must” she discussed is that veterinary consultation must occur when pain or distress is beyond the level anticipated in the protocol description, or when interventional control is not possible. But, in many cases, veterinarians for institutions are not in the field and even telecommunication can be challenging in remote locations. It is also challenging to bring veterinary equipment and substances into the field settings. This is particularly true of controlled substances or hazardous materials where there are important legal, health, safety, and animal welfare considerations. Another “must” she shared is that veterinary care be provided if lesions or illnesses associated with restraint are observed. However, restraint looks different (e.g., in terms of type of restraint, duration, and effects on the animal) in the field than in the laboratory. Options are limited, and issues are more complicated in the field, Petervary said.
The Guide has a section on veterinary care (NRC 2011, pp. 105–131), with subsections on surgery and invasive procedures, minimization of pain and distress, and euthanasia, she continued. Veterinary care is challenging in the field and conditions may preclude many of the recommended options. The Guide also talks about animal identification, occupational health and safety, disaster planning, and training. Petervary asked: How would these look in field settings? Other challenges include being aware of and coordinating requirements with local, state, and federal regulations; laws on native land; and laws outside of the United States. Then, she said, there are questions on species standards for non-domestic, non-traditional animals brought into the laboratory. For example, is daily observation feasible and appropriate for animals in torpor or hibernation? How often do they need to be provided food and water? While it may not be feasible to have specific standards for every species, she noted, some Guide information may benefit from clarifications regarding some requirements when non-traditional species are used.
While the challenges described are significant, Petervary said she believes they are not insurmountable. Workshops like this one, she said, which bring together laboratory animal professionals, field biologists, and regulators, are a great way to identify problems and brainstorm solutions. She expressed her hope that these types of activities will pave the way for more open, collaborative discussions on the topic.
AAALAC INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE: WILDLIFE STUDIES: BEYOND THE THREE PRIMARY STANDARDS
Jeff Wyatt, Emeritus AAALAC International (AAALAC) council member, presented the AAALAC perspective on the IACUC challenges posed by free-ranging wildlife field studies. He
discussed AAALAC’s guidance using reference resources beyond the three primary standards; the emerging drivers of more scientific studies enrolling free-ranging wildlife; the wildlife expertise of AAALAC site visitors; and the four AAALAC-adopted, taxonomic-specific, wildlife reference resources.
Wyatt explained that AAALAC is the only international accrediting body enhancing the quality of science and education by promoting humane and responsible animal care and use through voluntary participation using a peer-review process. He said that AAALAC has moved far beyond the traditional animals found in laboratories to include agricultural species on farms, free-ranging wildlife, and even mice and fish in outer space. Wyatt said that AAALAC’s three primary standards used as the basis for program assessments are the Guide, the Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Research and Teaching (ADSA et al. 2020), and the European Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals used for Experimental and Other Scientific Purposes (ETS No. 123), including Appendix A: Guidelines for Accommodation and Care of Animals (Article 5 of the Convention) (Council of Europe 1986, 2006). While these three primary standards provide valuable ethical considerations and sound principles of the humane treatment of animals in science, he continued, they all refer readers to consult with subject-matter experts to address the unique challenges posed by unusual experimental conditions encountered in field studies or wildlife research.
Wyatt suggested that one driver of the increased scientific interest in studying free-ranging wildlife is nearly a 100-fold increase in publications mentioning the One Health concept (Humboldt-Dachroeden et al. 2020). The One Health concept is defined by the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health (formerly the OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as an approach to address a health threat at the human, animal, and environment interface based on collaboration, communication, and coordination across all relevant sectors and disciplines; with the ultimate goal of achieving optimal health outcomes for both people and animals. Wildlife, now more than ever, Wyatt said, serve as bioindicators in, and biomonitors of, a healthy planet in the face of ecosystem shifting and the planet’s degrading life support system caused by climate change.
Wyatt said that AAALAC deploys more than 100 council members and 400 ad hoc site visitors to assess more than 1,000 accredited institutions worldwide. With the diversity of accredited units and new applicants, including academic institutions, pharmaceutical corporations, contract research organizations (CROs), government research entities, and research animal production businesses, AAALAC strategically recruits site visitors with equally diverse expertise, he said. The AAALAC Executive Office appoints at least one council member including those holding emeritus positions, like Wyatt, to lead a site visit. The AAALAC Council and the ad hoc database identify species-specific expertise (including wildlife) of potential site visit team members, Wyatt explained. AAALAC and the accredited programs being assessed recognize the value of including peer subject-matter experts for the review of research and teaching programs enrolling free-ranging wildlife in field research.
The AAALAC Council committees review the guidelines proposed for adoption as a reference resource, much like an IACUC would review a proposal with attention to animal welfare and consistency with other AAALAC standards and reference resources, he said. AAALAC identifies caveats, clarifications, and exceptions when adopting a reference resource, as shown in Box 1-1. Wyatt indicated that, despite the relatively few clarifications, caveats, and exceptions listed below, four resources provide unique information most valuable to an IACUC on regulatory agency permit requirements; populations and habitat impact considerations; netting, trapping, and capture techniques, including safeguards; novel manual, mechanical, and chemical restraint techniques; capture myopathy; bycatch considerations; recommended marking methods; species-specific biomethodologies techniques, such as blood collection; and surgical and post-surgical management, euthanasia, and carcass disposition. He said that familiarity with these four AAALAC reference resources positions IACUCs to understand best practices for consideration when reviewing and approving protocols enrolling free-ranging wildlife species:
- Guidelines for Use of Live Amphibians and Reptiles in Field and Laboratory Research (ASIH 2004),
- Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research (Fair et al. 2010),
- Guidelines for the Use of Fishes in Research (AFS 2014), and
- 2016 Guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for the Use of Wild Mammals in Research and Education (Sikes 2016).
Often, the most valuable resource is the principal investigator (PI) who is most familiar with the peculiarities and attributes of the wild animal being studied, Wyatt said, differentiating them from the more traditional captive-bred laboratory animals with whom IACUCs are most experienced.
The challenges posed to IACUCs by free-ranging wildlife proposals may appear daunting but are relatively easily addressed with an openness to collaboration and listening, as well as awareness of the taxonomic species-specific guidelines adopted by AAALAC, Wyatt added. In closing, Wyatt noted challenges relevant to AAALAC (covered in more detail later in the workshop) include a pertinent harm-benefit analysis; occupational health and emergency preparedness and evacuation protocols; specialized capture and chemical restraint techniques unique to wildlife studies; field anesthesia and analgesia considerations; aseptic surgical technique; intra-operative monitoring; recovery; and euthanasia. He noted some next steps which could include IACUCs being intentional and expanding committee expertise in wildlife studies, with the potential use of consultants and IACUCs familiar with current and future guidelines adopted by AAALAC.