Bear deaths raise questions of WSU research ethics
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Contact the USDA to Demand a Maximum FINE against Washington State University:
Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region, USDA
(970) 494-7478
[email protected] 
[email protected]


Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against Washington State University for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their negligence killed bears and sheep. Their negligence in allowing staff to fatally overdose bighorn sheep and also in allowing bears to become seriously debilitated should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


Bear deaths raise questions of WSU research ethics
By Lance Lijewski,, June 8, 2016

Fifteen grizzly bears have died under WSU’s care in the past six years, according to public records, as well as three bighorn sheep in the past year, prompting an animal research watchdog group to call for penalties against the university.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), a Cincinnati-based organization, filed two complaints for what it believed to be violations of the Animal Welfare Act. SAEN is asking WSU be fined $10,000 for each infraction.

Both complaints address incidents recorded in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) April 26 inspection report and public records obtained several days after the first complaint was filed.

The USDA report documented inadequate veterinary care, insufficient supervision of experimentation by the WSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and inadequate sanitation and housing. The public records documented every bear death recorded by WSU’s Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center since operations began in 1986.

“The additional bear deaths which have recently come to our attention raise even more red flags about the WSU Bear Center,” said Michael Budkie, SAEN director. “Apparently the death toll for bears and other species at WSU is very high. These deaths are very suspicious.”

According to the records, four bears were euthanized for population control, three for research purposes, such as harvesting tissue samples, and two for health reasons. The other six died of natural causes or illness.

WSU began an internal investigation last March revealing two bears were euthanized in 2010 after they failed to enter hibernation. Due to improper monitoring, when researchers discovered this, the bears’ health had deteriorated enough to make euthanasia necessary according to the records.

“It is our belief that the incidents cited under the Veterinary Care non-compliance were directly involved and potentially causative factors in the deaths of these two bears,” Budkie wrote in his complaint. “This kind of fatal negligence and incompetence clearly deserves to be severely punished.”

In addition to the recent bear deaths, the IACUC cited an incident in which three bighorn sheep were administered 50 times the approved dosage of a drug for three days in a row.

“Overdosing is not uncommon, unfortunately,” Budkie said. “But the amount over a consecutive number of days … that forces one to question the competence of those involved.”

The graduate student who administered the drug was researching preventative measures for a pneumonia virus that wipes out large populations of wild sheep.

After an experimental vaccine failed to cure the illness, the sheep were humanely euthanized because of pneumonia, not because of the overdoses, said Charlie Powell, spokesperson for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“To try and make it work the grad student gave an approved corticosteroid (dexamethasone),” Powell said. “That wasn’t working either.”

The student read literature documenting past research done on bighorn sheep, which included increasing steroid dosage by 40 to 50 times the initial amount. They operated without approval from the IACUC.

Additionally, the student used a compound grade steroid, when they were only approved to use a pharmaceutical grade steroid to ensure purity.

The sheep were not impacted by the dosage, Powell said, so no corrective action was taken and the project was canceled.

At the end of the semester the professor in charge of the research retired and the student who administered the drug graduated.

“The opportunity from this for us is to let graduate students know just because you see stuff in literature being approved doesn’t mean you’re approved to do the same,” Powell said. “We always follow protocol and amend when necessary.”

The Veterinary School continues to do research on wild sheep, particularly in matters of viruses, Powell said, with the support of the Wild Sheep Foundation and other organizations.

Other citations listed under veterinary care mentioned failure to maintain veterinary records and failure to report treatments prescribed by an investigator to a veterinarian. Citations listed under housing and sanitation mentioned a bent portion of a dog run and a bent and rusted sheep feeder.

The second complaint, made on Friday, focused on the significant number of bear deaths in the last decade and requested further punishment for additional violations of inadequate veterinary care.

SAEN may find more issues requiring citations and complaints as additional public records are released, Budkie said, and will file additional complaints as it obtains relevant information. 

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