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Humane Society Should Stop Criticizing, Start Funding

The letter by Randall Lockwood and Martin L. Stephens (The Scientist, December 15, 1986, p. 10) implies that behavioral researchers, who have not welcomed the recent mandate to provide for the psychological well-being of captive primates, are simply ignorant of the set of prescriptions that the authors provide. These include a varied environment over which the animals can exert some control, the opportunity to perform all possible species-specific behaviors, and provision of compassionate careta

By | February 9, 1987

The letter by Randall Lockwood and Martin L. Stephens (The Scientist, December 15, 1986, p. 10) implies that behavioral researchers, who have not welcomed the recent mandate to provide for the psychological well-being of captive primates, are simply ignorant of the set of prescriptions that the authors provide. These include a varied environment over which the animals can exert some control, the opportunity to perform all possible species-specific behaviors, and provision of compassionate caretakers. The authors also claim that objective attempts to study environmental variables as they relate to quality of life would be fruitless and unnecessary since they "already have a good sense of what constitutes quality of life for many captive primates."

It is refreshing to note that these views apparently are not shared by their coworker, Michael W. Fox, the ScientifIc Director of the Humane Society of the United States. In his recent book Laboratory Animal Husbandry (State University of New York Press, 1986), Fox states: "It is indeed a major challenge to the laboratory animal scientist to sort out which physiological functions and behavioral indices may be used as diagnostic criteria of poor housing and social stress there is a wealth of unanswered questions in this field that warrants further research" (p. 19).

Similarly, whereas Lockwood and Stephens advise us not to waste our time with "parametric tinkering" such as investigating the role of cage size, Fox states (in noting that the NIH recommendations on cage size for each species are half those of authorities in the United Kingdom): "Clearly, such rudimentary elements of laboratory animal husbandry cannot have been derived from scientific study of the animals' basic needs, and yet we do have the science and technology to ask the animal what environment and/or cage inclusions it prefers…. As it has been demonstrated … what may seem intuitively right for us for the animal's well-being may not be what it wants at all" (p. 170, latter emphasis added).

Lockwood and Stephens appear to confuse ignorance (a refusal to take notice of available facts) with lack of facts. Furthermore, their recommendations for ensuring quality of life for captive primates are so naive or simplistic that they yield little or no practicable benefit or predictive power. For example, should we allow captive primates who live in demographic groups similar to those found in the wild to engage in infant abuse or neglect, infanticide, or cannibalism if these are part of their natural behavioral repertoire?

Is a compassionate caretaker one who passively accepts the fact that the primate on the bottom of the dominance hierarchy is constantly subjected to aggressive acts by cagemates (which Lockwood and Stephens claim is often a meaningless measure) because this would occur wider natural conditions? Would it be more or less humane to extract the canine teeth from dominant males in this group to limit the damage they can inflict? Which animal's best interests should take precedence?

Should we close down all laboratories that do not house primates outdoors in tropical climates because the animals are being denied their natural habitat? Or could we instead house them indoors, so long as we provided them with a semi-natural habitat including trees and nesting material that would make it difficult to pass a federal health inspection?

I concur with other behavioral researchers that the requirement to provide for the psychological well-being of primates in our lab-oratories is nebulous and premature given our current state of knowledge. Primate research is very expensive, and behavioral research on captive animals that lacks any obvious applied benefit to humans is not typically given top-priority by most granting agencies. Rather than criticizing our practices and chastising us for our "ignorance," perhaps the Humane Society of the United States, with its assets of more than $8 million, or ether animal welfare organizations could do more for laboratory animals by funding such research.

—Susan D. Suarez
Dept. of Psychology
SUNY College at Oneonta
Oneonta, NY 13820

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