The University of Southern Mississippi released a statement Tuesday evening to Seven On Your Side addressing recent allegations of abuse to animals in one of their research labs.
The explanation is as followed:
The Purpose of the Bushbaby Research
The Bushbaby Research Facility is dedicated to examining the most effective ways of enhancing and improving the management, health, and well being of zoo and research facility-housed animals, with a particular eye toward primates, while ensuring the highest national standards are met. The research focus is primarily on providing novel dietary and behavioral enrichment that will both mimic the nutritional composition of diets seen in the wild, as well as provide species-appropriate sensory and cognitive stimuli. As bushbabies hunt insects and eat many forms of vegetation, researchers provide them with a varied diet that includes foraging for insects and a wide array of fruits and vegetables. One of our goals is to observe the feeding behaviors and food preferences of the bushbabies, so that we may make recommendations to zoos and research facilities, and better understand the nature of these animals. One aspect of this is to work closely with zoos and the governing bodies within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Care of the Bushbabies
A committed team ensures the daily care of the bushbabies. Daily management includes thorough cleaning of their housing and enclosures, diet prep and disbursement that encourages natural foraging behaviors, and behavioral enrichment items that are regularly rotated allowing for tactile and sensory stimuli. Behavioral enrichment includes nesting materials, stuffed animals, foraging boxes, climbing structures (including branches and ladders), and auditory stimuli in the form of music and nature sounds.
The research facility is regularly inspected by representatives of both the USDA and USM’s Internal Animal Care and Use Committee. USDA inspections are conducted with no prior notice, and we were found to be in full compliance, with no issues, following an inspection by the agency this past August. USM’s latest review of the facility was completed Nov. 19, 2015.
Seven On Your Side requested access to the research facility Monday, but the primary researcher denied our request, citing that any disruption to the animal's routine, including individuals that they do not know, can cause undue stress to their well being.
The facility also said that specific research activities in the lab are underway, and could be disrupted if the bushbabies' welfare were to be compromised.
The statement went on to say that the research facility is regularly inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture and USM's Internal Animal Care and Use Committee.
According to a news release issued by an animal activist group called SAEN, (Stop Animal Exploitation NOW) a whistle blower contacted the group alleging that bushbabies housed at the research facility were displaying psychologically abnormal and self-destructive behavior.
According to Michael Budkie, a representative for SAEN, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on January 24 outlining the allegations.
Budkie sited in his complaint to the USDA a report printed in a medical journal by the research facility in 2009 addressing the bushbabies' behavior, and two separate USDA inspection reports citing rabbits and hamsters being infested with ticks.
According to Budkie, the whistle blower came forward to the group within the past three months with the abuse allegations, and said that the complaint he filed would have to be investigated by the USDA soon to be in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
This is a developing story. Seven on Your Side will report any additional information as it becomes available.