Parsons, M. H., Stryjek, R., Fendt, M. et al. 2023. Making a case for the free exploratory paradigm: Animal welfare-friendly assays that enhance heterozygosity and ecological validity. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 17.

Rodents, laboratory rats and mice, have been used as models in experimental research for almost two centuries (Keeler, 1947; Bolles and Woods, 1964; Nishioka, 1995; Guénet and Bonhomme, 2003). During this time, it has been assumed that rodent suffering was a necessary part of the tremendous scientific advancement, and thus the means justified the ends. After centuries of unregulated research, animal welfare committees were instituted in Europe, America and Australasia to limit animal suffering (Steneck, 1997; Curzer et al., 2016). While licenses to conduct research on animals are often burdensome to obtain (Curzer et al., 2016), there has been strong variance across nations in expectations for the license, the review process and compliance (Varga, 2013). Institutions in some nations, for instance, are not financially-equipped to perform random onsite inspections, or hire veterinarians to assess or enforce conditions of the license. Those critical of the process, such as Rollin (2002) have invoked the idiom “the fox guarding the hen-house” to describe the seemingly voluntary nature of compliance for researchers in these circumstances. Regardless, some common assays that can cause needless or unjustified suffering are still used (Mason et al., 2004; Carbone, 2019), and some licenses that are appropriately established are not followed closely-enough (Jerusalem Post, 2023). Meanwhile, science is more broadly communicated than ever, and the general public and media are becoming more aware of this suffering, particularly as we learn more about the animals themselves. For instance, rodents were historically viewed as vermin or pests. Yet it is now widely recognized that rodents are sentient (Bartal et al., 2011, 2014; Mogil, 2012; Mason, 2021), and like any animal, they deserve an expansion of our “compassion footprint” (Bekoff, 2010; Cochrane, 2013; Dunayer, 2013).

Animal Type