Field studies involving wildlife species

Field research on warm blooded, vertebrate wildlife species is often overseen and evaluated by an IACUC to insure that the protocols employed are consistent with humane care and use of animals. Unlike many other on-site research projects, however, field studies p resent logistical and other challenges to IACUC evaluation. It’s important to note that studies conducted on free-living wild animals in their natural habitat do not require IACUC and approval as long as the activity does not alter or influence the activity of the animals that are being studied (for example observation, photography, collection of feces). However, if the research alters the environment, behavior or influences activities of the animals, such as direct interaction (e.g. trapping), invasive procedures (e.g. tissue sampling) causing pain or distress, or if there is potential for harm to animals or impacts the health or safety of research personnel, this activity must be reviewed and approved by the IACUC
UMBC investigators are required to submit a protocol in KUALI for field studies to the IACUC for review and be approved prior to the actual use of animals.

The ORPC has created the below proposal development recommendations to assist investigators in the creation of a protocol.

What are examples of research activities that may alter or influence the activity of the animals?

  • Capturing or restraining animals (tagging or banding)
  • Peripheral blood sampling, swabbing, or the insertion of subcutaneous RFID chips
  • Invasive procedures, such as entry into a body cavity or organ, or removal of a body part

Note that “pain or distress” is generally considered any procedure that would reasonably be expected to cause more than slight or momentary pain or distress in a human being to which that procedure is applied (e.g. pain in excess of that caused by injections, brief food or water restriction, etc.).

How can the Veterinarian assist in the development of a protocol application?

The veterinarian can provide advice on experimental animal models, occupational health, hazard containment, and zoonosis control. If you and your technical staff require assistance for animal procedures (i.e., you are not qualified in performing certain techniques, including surgery) help is available, at no cost to your project, from UMB Veterinary Resources. In addition, assistance in the planning of anesthetic/ analgesic procedures and methods of euthanasia is available

How does the occupational health and safety program apply to field research?

The IACUC recognizes that the hazards and risks of field work are different from those in the laboratory setting. As such, UMBC’s Occupational Health and Safety Program addresses training requirements risk assessment to address the broad range of unique and unusual risks in working with wildlife. Risks and mitigation processes, as well as the type of personal protective equipment and specific training, are documented in an IACUC protocol application.

Is IACUC approval required for research on wildlife species if collaborating outside of UMBC?

If a UMBC investigator is directing or funding collaborative activities involving wildlife animals, UMBC IACUC submission and approval procedures apply. Wherever possible and appropriate, UMBC’s IACUC will accept the review and approval of the offsite institution’s IACUC upon submission to ORPC of that institution’s approval documentation. View the Collaborative Research page for more information.

What information is required to describe procedures for capturing wild animals? What happens if animals are captured that are not described in an IACUC protocol?

Common activities in the capture and release of wild animals involves marking, banding or sampling. The IACUC evaluates potential distress, pain and injury of the target animals resulting from the capture method, risks to project personnel, and management of potential by-catch. Steps to minimize risk to project personnel are also reviewed with the recognition that field work has different inherent and unavoidable risks than laboratory activities. If capturing non-target animals is likely, management plans should minimize potential distress and injury to animals and personnel.

What permits and other regulations relate to wildlife research?

The IACUC ensures that wildlife research complies with Animal Welfare Act and Public Health Services regulations. Depending on the field research site, specific local, state, national, or international wildlife collection or trapping permits would be required.

The Ornithological Council provides information and contact information for federal agencies that require permits as well as summaries of state and Canada permitting information. The Ornithological Council recommends that all permit applications be submitted to permitting agencies at least 90 calendar days prior to the date you intend to start work/import/export but in the case of endangered species permits, allow up to six months. The IACUC recommends investigators obtaining the appropriate permits as soon as possible in order to conduct the field research in a timely manner. IACUC approval is not required to obtain federal and state permits; however, the UMBC IACUC will not give approval until the required permits are obtained.

The IACUC also recommends investigators read the Ornithological Council’s article on permit “application best practices.”

Maryland Department of Natural Resources information on scientific collection permits

US Geological Survey information on banding permits

Can captured wildlife species be brought back to a UMBC lab for research?

If appropriate permits have been obtained wildlife species can be brought from the field for research and education activities. Once live specimens are brought to institutional facilities, they are treated as laboratory animals rather than wildlife. Quarantine procedures, housing, animal care and veterinary care requirements must be consistent with the Guide for Laboratory Animal Use unless the IACUC approves a deviation for scientific or medical reasons. The IACUC may also require that enrichment and housing of social animals are applied as appropriate.

What are acceptable methods for euthanasia in the field?

When wildlife activities reviewed by the IACUC, approval of research includes the overall goal of benefit for wild species by scientists interested in understanding and preserving wildlife. Field studies should conform with best available methods to minimize any necessary pain and distress to the species being studied. Methods of euthanasia must be described in an IACUC application and approved by the attending veterinarian and the IACUC. Unless the IACUC approves a deviation for scientific or medical reasons, methods should be consistent with the most recent edition of the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia.

How do the 3 R’s apply to field research and why are alternative searches required for wildlife research?

The IACUC recognizes that applying the 3 R’s in wildlife studies is challenging because research goals in the field are certainly different from those encountered in the laboratory; these goals may prioritize the collection of data from many animals over the welfare of individual animals.

The IACUC does expect wildlife investigators to conduct an alternatives search; strategies to obtain this information would be different from what a laboratory investigator. For more information, consult the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) website for suggestions in developing these strategies to include in an IACUC application.

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