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Lab Rats ‘Cooked to Death’ Due to Forgotten Space Heater at University Facility


Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Animal Welfare Operations, USDA-APHIS
[email protected] 
[email protected]

Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the University of South Florida for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act which led to the deaths of five mole rats. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


Lab Rats ‘Cooked to Death’ Due to Forgotten Space Heater at University Facility

From Yelena Dzhanova,, June 30, 2023

Five naked mole rats tragically died in a research facility at the University of South Florida due to overheating, as reported by the Miami New Times.

On February 5, staff members of the university's Comparative Medicine research division discovered the group of naked mole rats deceased in their cage. A technician had inadvertently left a portable space heater on throughout the night and relocated it “too close to a rack when mopping [and] didn’t move it back,” according to the outlet.

"The cause of death was determined to be overheating… with no remote monitoring," stated Sylvia Thomas, interim vice president for research and innovation, in a letter to the National Institutes of Health.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an animal rights group, lodged a complaint against the University of South Florida, alleging to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the institution violated the Animal Welfare Act, a 1966 law governing animal testing.

“It’s not being monitored at all,” Stacy Ellison, research analyst with Stop Animal Exploitation Now, told the New Times.

“These animals suffered, burned, and died. That should call for a maximum violation,” Ellison stated.

In her complaint, Ellison mentioned that the naked mole rats “suffered under excessive heat long enough that they were cooked to death.”

She hopes that the USDA will impose a maximum fine of $12,722 per violation and per animal.

Responding to the New Times, the University of South Florida stated it “took the appropriate steps and immediately notified federal agencies regarding the incident.”

The day after the unfortunate discovery, Comparative Medicine staff drafted a plan to enhance the care of animals, a proposal that includes prohibiting the unsupervised use of space heaters overnight. The university said staff members also underwent training in space heater usage and animal welfare.

“The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare was satisfied with the corrective actions steps and has determined no further action is necessary," the university said in a statement. "USF believes in the respectful and ethical treatment of animals in research. We have a vigorous training and review process and will continue to abide by all state and federal laws and guidelines." 

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