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Animal Ethics Infolink
A NSW DPIRD and Animal Research Review Panel initiative

Use of non-indigenous vertebrate pest species in research

Animal Research Review Panel Guideline 7

Revised: March 2020.

Despite some species being considered pests and the potential for differing community opinions on the degree of welfare requirements for pest species, the principles of the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (the Australian Code) must be applied equally to all animals (clause 3.3.43).

1. Definitions

Non-indigenous vertebrate pest species - those animals that were not in Australia in1788 and whose populations in the wild have an adverse effect on the environment, the economy or the community.  It also includes studies on wild dogs which include dingoes, feral dogs and their hybrids.

2.  Areas of non-indigenous vertebrate pest species research

2.1  Processes for effective control and management

  • Methods of capture e.g. trapping, netting, mustering, aerially-assisted mustering.
  • Methods of killing e.g. physical, chemical and biological.
  • Fertility control e.g. surgical contraception, chemical contraception, immunocontraception.
  • Control delivery methods e.g. types of oral baits, aerial or ground shooting.
  • Environmental methods of control e.g. landscape control, fencing, electronic deterrents, livestock guardian animals.
  • Incursion detection e.g. environmental DNA techniques, aerial surveys, camera trapping, capture-mark-release-resight.

2.2  Interaction with other species

  • Predator-prey studies.
  • Predator interaction studies.
  • Non-indigenous herbivore interactions with production animals
  • Cumulative invasional interaction studies (e.g. interaction of weeds, rabbits and red foxes)
  • Competition for resources and/or habitat studies.
  • Disease interaction studies (e.g. parasitoses and zoonoses)

2.3  Utilisation and commercialisation

  • Harvesting invasive animals including the methods of capture, handling, transportation and slaughter.
  • Farming invasive animals including the provision of adequate nutritional requirements.

3. Areas of animal welfare and ethical concern in non-indigenous vertebrate pest animals research

3.1  Studies of methods of killing

Lethal control of some non-indigenous vertebrate pest animals is required by law and researching the efficacy of control actions and ensuring the best welfare outcomes when such targeted animals are killed often necessitates their death.  Any study of methods of killing generally requires that death is the end point for some of the subject animals in the experiment, which challenges one of the General Principles of the Australian Code. Clause 1.13 of the Australian Code states that Investigators must avoid using death as an experimental end-point unless it is essential to achieve the project aims.

Researchers considering this type of research should fulfil the requirements of clause 2.4.8 (i-iv) of the Australian Code which requires that animals are only used when justified. If death as an end-point cannot be avoided, Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) and researchers should also consider clause 3.1.28 (i) of the Australian Code that states that:

'Where death as the end-point is essential for the aim(s) of the project and cannot be avoided, the project must be designed to minimise the number of animals that will die'.

In these circumstances the number of animals involved should also be determined with proper consideration for scientific validity. That is, there needs to be sufficient animals in the study to enable statistical inference about the efficacy and of the method/s of killing that is/ are being studied. Otherwise no conclusions can be drawn and killing of the animals is scientifically unjustified.

Steps to avoid or minimise pain and distress must be also considered, implemented and reviewed (clauses 1.13, and 3.1.28 (ii) of the Australian Code).

As there is a special requirement of justification of any proposed research into methods of killing of non-indigenous vertebrate pest species, the justification should be from both a broad perspective (e.g. the effect of the non-indigenous vertebrate pest species on the environment), as well as the specific requirement to do the research (e.g. development of a new lethal disease in the species). The proposed research justification should include a significant animal welfare component (i.e. improvement on current practices and whether the killing is by physical, chemical or biological methods).

3.2  Studies of Methods of Capture

As in clause 2.4, justification for proposed research into methods of capturing should include animal welfare protection components (i.e. improvement on current practices and should also fulfil all the requirements of clauses 3.3.33-3.3.44 of the Australian Code).

Current methods of capture may be used in Capture Studies and for capture-and-release as "nil-treatments" in the evaluation of new killing techniques. The number of nil treatment animals captured and released should be minimised but within the constraints of statistical rigour.

3.3  Interaction Studies

Current control methods may be used to reduce non-indigenous vertebrate pest numbers in interaction studies.

3.4  Field Studies

The animal experimentation ethics requirements for the use of introduced vertebrate pest species animals in field studies are the same as for wildlife (clauses 3.3.33-3.3.44 of the Australian Code).

3.5  Use as laboratory animals

Non-indigenous vertebrate pests may be used in a manner similar to laboratory animals in some studies, requiring close containment either outdoors on a research site, in a research animal house or in a GMAC designated containment facility. In accordance with clause 3.2.4 of the Australian Code, animals should be taken from natural habitats only if animals bred in captivity are unsuitable for the specific scientific purpose of the research.

Non-indigenous vertebrate pests captured as free-living animals must be considered to be undomesticated and may require special housing, care and handling.

The keeping of non-indigenous pest species may be legislated under the Local Land Services Act 2013 and may require additional approvals.

3.6  Euthanasia or release

All non-indigenous vertebrate pest animals used in research either in the laboratory or in the field must be euthanased at the conclusion of the research (unless the aims of the project require their release) in accordance with clauses 3.3.44 to 3.3.46 of the Australian Code. All relevant legislation, including the Biosecurity Act 2015, the Local Land Services Act 2013 and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 must be adhered to when planning a project whose aims require the release of non-indigenous vertebrate pests.

4.  Conclusion

The use of non-indigenous vertebrate pest animals in research must be carried out according to the principles of the Australian Code, and in accordance with the State or Territory legal requirements and guidelines for the use of animals in research and the keeping, transportation, use and management of animals (e.g. LLS, POCTA, Companion Animals, Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock).

Research investigations of the efficacy and relative humaneness of killing methods for non-indigenous vertebrate pest animals require particular diligence and consideration of the animal welfare aspects of killing animals.

5.  Related Documents


Stephen Jackson (NSW DPI) for the development of the current edition and Peter Fleming (NSW DPI), Claire Harrison (NSW DPI) and Mike Fleming (DPIE) for providing comments on the draft document.