Animal welfare group lodges complaint against NDSU after 22 bat deaths
FARGO — An Ohio-based animal welfare organization has filed a complaint alleging that North Dakota State University violated the federal Animal Welfare Act by failing to follow rules for the care of animals and contributing to the death of 22 wild bats over the course of four months.
The organization, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, sent a letter of complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on Tuesday, Oct. 31, asking that the agency impose the most severe penalty allowable under the act, which it said would be a fine of $10,000 per animal, or $220,000.
The letter says NDSU "clearly demonstrated negligence which led to multiple deaths." The complaint was based on a APHIS inspection of an NDSU facility in June. That report found two violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The one related to the bat deaths was classified as "critical" in the inspection report.
Sadie Rudolph, an NDSU spokeswoman, said on Wednesday that researchers "took immediate and appropriate corrective action" following the bat deaths and "steps have been taken to ensure the proper care of such animals. NDSU remains committed to providing for the health and well-being of animals."
Rudolph said researchers in the Department of Biological Sciences were using the bats to study bat behavior and communication. She said researchers were not able to determine the cause of the deaths.
Neither the complaint nor the inspection report identified exactly where on campus the bat deaths occurred, and university officials would not disclose that location. The inspection report identified the site of the inspection only as 1735 Research Park Drive, the address of NDSU's Research and Technology Park, but that facility includes multiple buildings.
The inspection report, dated June 20, said all 22 bats in a "captive colony" died between Jan. 9 and May 10. The report said no records were available to indicate whether a veterinarian had been contacted about the bats or whether testing had been done to determine the cause of the deaths.
The Animal Welfare Act requires that research facilities "establish and maintain programs of adequate veterinary care." It requires daily observation of animals to assess their health and frequent communication with a veterinarian when animal health problems occur.
The inspection report said "direct and timely communication with the attending veterinarian and appropriate diagnostic testing are essential to the well being of all institutional animal colonies when unexpected mortality or morbidity occurs."
Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), said the organization has not yet contacted NDSU about the violations, but plans to submit a public records request soon.
"The failure of NDSU staff to report these deaths to veterinary staff directly," Budkie said, "contributed to the deaths of many of the bats because no diagnostic work was performed on the first bats who died, which could have prevented subsequent deaths."
The organization's complaint also said NDSU should be cited under another section of the Animal Welfare Act concerning personnel qualification "because apparently their staff is so utterly unqualified that they did not think that dying animals were sufficient cause to contact veterinary staff."
SAEN has filed one previous complaint against NDSU in 2008 when it charged that the university had provided inadequate veterinary care for sheep. Budkie said the USDA did not penalize the university in response to that incident.
Founded in 1996, SAEN is a nonprofit group based in Milford, Ohio. It is funded through donations and focuses on the treatment of animals used in research.