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Three animals died at NIRC last fall, UL confirms

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jan 27, 2021

Three animals died at UL's New Iberia Research Center in August, it is believed of heatstroke.

The university confirms that the animals died and provided information about their report to federal officials about it, and the changes they've made to try to ensure such deaths aren't repeated.

According to the University, in response to the Aug. 5, 2020, incident, NIRC staff have taken the following preventive measures:

  • Installed wading pools and sprinklers prior to assembling social breeding groups during hot weather, thus providing some cooling enrichment and extending the behavioral observations time.
  • Identified indoor/outdoor housing to be utilized during the summer to establish social groups. Indoor portions of the housing are air-conditioned.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has determined that these precautionary actions were appropriate and timely, a spokesman for UL says.

The New Iberia Research Center reported the Aug. 5, 2020, incident to National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Welfare on Aug. 26, 2020, as is required, the spokesman said.

Here are some experts from the report, explaining what happened:

“Several breeding groups of rhesus macaques were transferred to outdoor housing after completing on-boarding isolation procedures” for approximately 30 days.

“The animals originated from Alice, Texas, where they had been housed in outdoor housing at temperatures very similar to those at the New Iberia Research Center. Discussion and planning with regard to group formations and safely moving the animals to outdoor housing did include consideration for the appropriate day and time of day due to the ambient August Louisiana heat.

“Animals were transferred outside between the house of 8 a.m. and 9:10 a.m. The ambient temperatures were comfortable for that time of year, with a humidity of 60% and 83-93 degrees Fahrenheit. Animals were observed for 1-2.5 hours, showing no evidence of undue aggressive behavior, with a plan to recheck them in the early afternoon.”

NIRC staff ensured the animals had access to sprinklers/misters, frozen fruit juice and other enrichment “to offset the heat,” the letter states. These preventive measures met the requirements established in the Extreme Environmental Temperature Assessment and Action Plan.

Three animals were found deceased at 12:30 p.m. “Each animal was settling into each of 3 separate social groups. No wounding was noted. All animals appeared healthy and normal at the time of group set up. The gross necropsy and pathology reports strongly suggest heat stroke.

“Prior social groups had been established in the colony during similar environmental conditions without incident or concern, and thus, the Center staff could not have anticipated these deaths.”

SAEN, a group is trying to stop the use of animals in experimentation, says it has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the incident.