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Incorporation of the Principles of the Three Rs in Wildlife Research


Gilly Griffin and Clément Gauthier

The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) is scheduled to publish Guidelines on the Care and Use of Wildlife on its website http://www.ccac.ca in January 2003.1 The underlying ethical basis of all CCAC guidelines and policies requires adherence to the concept of the Three Rs of Russell and Burch (reduction, refinement and replacement). However, the development of these guidelines raised particular challenges in implementing this ethical concept. Where the aim of field studies is to understand the ecology, ecophysiology or behaviour of wildlife, replacement by a non-animal method, or even replacement of one species with a less sentient species, may not be an option. On the other hand, the humane treatment of wild vertebrates for research is both an ethical and a scientific necessity. Traumatised animals may exhibit abnormal physiological, behavioural and ecological responses that defeat the purposes of the investigation and may have an impact on the local ecosystem. Assessment of what constitutes humane treatment is often a challenge in wildlife research, as it may differ in different contexts. Animal care committees are useful in this respect, as they focus on the ethical implications of the research through requiring practical steps to be in place prior to the study. In addition, the guidelines outline a process for reporting outcomes of research to assist in improving welfare outcomes for study animals.