ABOVE: A photograph of the Moulton Chinchilla Ranch taken during an undercover investigation by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

A Minnesota animal supplier, Moulton Chinchilla Ranch, has lost its license, a judge ruled on Friday (October 8). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had requested action from the court after finding what it said were violations of the Animal Welfare Act during inspections, including animals that had not received timely veterinary care and sharp, rusty edges on animals’ housing. 

According to National Geographic, one USDA inspector, Brenton Cox, testified during the hearing that he had nightmares after walking through the facility, and had made it a training tool for “how to deal with the worst-case scenario facilities.”  

Attorney Russ Mead of Lewis & Clark Law School notes in comments to Science that the facility had an eight-year history of animal welfare violations. “It took 213 violations of the [AWA] to bring about this license revocation. The system is broken,” he tells the outlet.  

It is unclear whether alternative US sources exist for research chinchillas, which are sometimes used in hearing research because their large ears are similar to humans’. According to Science, Dan Moulton, who operates the Moulton Chinchilla Ranch, testified during the 18-day hearing on the violations that his was the only research chinchilla supplier in the country, an assertion challenged by a USDA veterinarian. Science notes that at least one recent study used chinchillas from a pet supplier, but researchers tell both that outlet and National Geographic that finding research chinchillas is growing more challenging.