On ensuring animal welfare in research using live capture

There is a need for rigorous reporting and high ethical standards in live animal research.

A recent journal article, published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, draws attention to the need for consistent and high standards for animal welfare in research, and the important role that journals have in maintaining ethical standards in published research.

The authors, joined by Raincoast scientists Kate Field, Paul Paquet and Chris Darimont, stress that ethical and animal welfare considerations must be top-of-focus at all levels of research that involves animal capture, for both ethical and data quality reasons.

The article, “On the need for rigorous welfare and methodological reporting for the live capture of large carnivores: A response to de Araujo et al. (2021),” concludes that proposals of new methods must “be supported by substantial contextual discussion, a robust rationale and analyses and comprehensive documentation.”

The authors found that a paper by de Araujo et al. (Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 2021) failed to be rigorous enough in its reporting of its development and application of a wire foot snare trap designed for big cats. This makes the study both difficult to replicate and difficult to confirm if the welfare of the study animals was upheld to acceptable standards.

We therefore call upon journals to place an onus on Editors and reviewers to explicitly confirm that the submitted work complies with the journal’s animal care policies. This is particularly important in the case of papers detailing capture methods, as these serve as a template for researchers considering those methods in their own research. 

Journals must also uphold rigorous standards in both their animal care policies and enforcement of said policies. In the case of Methods in Ecology and Evolution, the journal’s editors published de Arajuo et al.’s article even though Arajuo et al. did not produce essential information like a welfare statement and animal permit details. If journals are to be at the head of ensuring animal welfare consideration, “journals [must] place an onus on Editors and reviewers to explicitly confirm that the submitted work complies with the journal’s animal care policies.”

It is critical that journals without animal care policies to adopt a template, such as the ARROW guidelines, upon which they can build.

“This Forum article… presents an important opportunity to use evidence and best practise principles to advocate for higher standards of welfare reporting in wildlife studies. At minimum, these should include (a) an explanation of the necessity for live capture, including how data obtained via live capture contributed to the main objective of the study; (b) the provision of full details of methodological reviews, welfare considerations and permits in the paper or supplementary materials; (c) comprehensive details on assessments of welfare of target and non-target animals, with suitable comparable measures; (d) quantitative information on impacts to target and non-target animals; and (e) selectivity of methods.”

Citation

Caravaggi, A., Amado, T. F., Brook, R. K., Ciuti, S., Darimont, C. T., Drouilly, M., English, H. M., Field, K. A., Iossa, G., Martin, J. E., McElligott, A. G., Mohammadi, A., Nayeri, D., O’Neill, H. M. K., Paquet, P. C., Périquet, S., Proulx, G., Rabaiotti, D., Recio, M. R., … Wynn-Grant, R. (2021). On the need for rigorous welfare and methodological reporting for the live capture of large carnivores: A response to de Araujo et al. (2021). Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 12, 1793– 1799. https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.13664

Abstract

  1. De Araujo et al. (Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.13516) described the development and application of a wire foot snare trap for the capture of jaguars Panthera onca and cougars Puma concolor. Snares are a commonly used and effective means of studying large carnivores. However, the article presented insufficient information to replicate the work and inadequate consideration and description of animal welfare considerations, thereby risking the perpetuation of poor standards of reporting.
  2. Appropriate animal welfare assessments are essential in studies that collect data from animals, especially those that use invasive techniques, and are key in assisting researchers to choose the most appropriate capture method. It is critical that authors detail all possible associated harms and benefits to support thorough review, including equipment composition, intervention processes, general body assessments, injuries (i.e. cause, type, severity) and post-release behaviour. We offer a detailed discussion of these shortcomings.
  3. We also discuss broader but highly relevant issues, including the capture of non-target animals and the omission of key methodological details. The level of detail provided by authors should allow the method to be properly assessed and replicated, including those that improve trap selectivity and minimize or eliminate the capture of non-target animals.
  4. Finally, we discuss the central role that journals must play in ensuring that published research conforms to ethical, animal welfare and reporting standards. Scientific studies are subject to ever-increasing scrutiny by peers and the public, making it more important than ever that standards are upheld and reviewed.
  5. We conclude that the proposal of a new or refined method must be supported by substantial contextual discussion, a robust rationale and analyses and comprehensive documentation.

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