The University of Southern Mississippi responded to a formal complaint of animal abuse issued an activist group to the USDA on Wednesday.
In the statement released, the university describes the nature of its primate research. USM fully denied the accusations of the Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, the animal rights activist group, that accused the university of “blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act ” in primate laboratory research.
According to the release, “[USM was] found to be in full compliance, with no issues, following an inspection by the agency this past August.”
SAEN is demanding a maximum fine against USM for the alleged violation. SAEN filed the complaint about USM’s primate laboratory after an anonymous source informed them that some of the lab’s bushbabies were so psychologically abnormal that they had become self- destructive, biting off their fingers and ripping out their hair.
If found at fault, this is not the university’s first AWA violation. They were reportedly given three USDA citations in 2014 and were the target of a 4-page USDA inspection report in 2012 after a group of research rabbits subjected to prolonged tick-feeding were found to have large holes in their ears, ear discoloration and rectal bleeding, among other symptoms.
“The University of Southern Mississippi has demonstrated a long-term pattern of allowing animals to suffer needlessly,” said Michael Budkie, SAEN executive director, in a recent press release.
Regarding the abuse allegation, Budkie said, “The USDA should issue a severe penalty for the negligence which has allowed intelligent primates to become so psychologically abnormal as to engage in self-destructive behavior.”
University Vice President of Research Gordon Cannon’s responded to the SEAN as follows:
The University is committed to conducting ethical research. All work involving primates, no matter how high the level of care or beneficial the research, is subject to critical review. The research being conducted by USM undergoes USDA inspection, and has been consistently found in compliance, with no issues noted on the latest review completed this past fall.
According to the university statement, the research focus of the Bushbaby Research Facility is to provide novel dietary and behavioral enrichment mimicking the nutritional composition of diets in the wild and providing sensory and cognitive stimuli specific to the species. Captive bushbabies are given a varied diet that includes foraging for insects and a large variety of fruits and vegetables that allows researchers to observe feeding behaviors and food preferences in order to make recommendations to zoos and research facilities.
Continuing, the statement says the university has committed team, ensuring daily care of the bushbabies through cleaning of their housing and enclosures, diet prep and disbursement that encourages natural foraging behaviors, and behavioral enrichment items that are regularly rotated and include nesting materials, stuffed animals, foraging boxes, climbing structures and auditory stimuli.
The USDA and USM’s Internal Animal Care and Use Committee regularly inspects the research facility. According to Cannon, it was found to be in full compliance following a USDA inspection last August. USM’s latest review was completed on Nov. 19, 2015 and also found no issues.