The recent increase in research collaboration and outsourcing of animal research and testing across country borders has led to a need for institutional representatives to have a sound understanding of the regulatory/legal/policy framework pertaining to laboratory animals in countries of interest. For some aspects of laboratory animal care and use, there are no codified standards; in such cases, knowledge of common practices in the country of interest may be informative. One program element that may have a significant impact on laboratory animal welfare is the provision of environmental enrichment (Bayne, ILAR J and others). For this reason, there is much interest in the scope and quality of enrichment and behavioral management programs for laboratory animals around the world.
To do justice to the diverse approaches to enrichment and behavioral management around the world would entail a discussion beyond the limits of this publication. Therefore, guidelines and regulations in a representative sample of countries in select regions of the world will be described to give a sense of the status of this program element worldwide.
The study and implementation of enrichment techniques is long-standing in Europe. Journals such as Laboratory Animals and the Scandinavian Journal of Laboratory Animal Science often feature reports of enrichment research across a variety of species. The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/) established by the government of the United Kingdom, is a significant funder of 3Rs research and hosts educational conferences on the subject. Their website also makes available reports of projects funded by the NC3Rs. In addition, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (http://www.ufaw.org.uk/) whose motto is “science in the service of animal welfare,” publishes texts and hosts conferences that address a number of animal welfare topics—including enrichment. The regulatory system in Europe very strongly supports enrichment of research animals. The proposed (revised) European Directive has several passages related to enhancing animal welfare by enhancing the animals’ environment. Examples include (emphasis added):
“Animals, except those which are naturally solitary, shall be socially housed in stable groups of compatible individuals. In cases where single housing is allowed in accordance with article 32 (3), the duration shall be limited to the minimum period necessary and visual, auditory, olfactory and/or tactile contact shall be maintained. The introduction or re-introduction of animals to established groups shall be carefully monitored to avoid problems of incompatibility and disrupted social relationships.
All animals shall be provided with space of sufficient complexity to allow expression of a wide range of normal behavior. They shall be given a degree of control and choice over their environment to reduce stress-induced behavior. Establishments shall have appropriate enrichment techniques in place, to extend the range of activities available to the animal and increase their coping activities including physical exercise, foraging, manipulative and cognitive activities, as appropriate to the species. Environmental enrichment in animal enclosures shall be adapted to the species and individual needs of the animals concerned. The enrichment strategies in establishments shall be regularly reviewed and updated.
Bedding materials or sleeping structures adapted to the species shall always be provided, including nesting materials or structures for breeding animals.
Within the animal enclosure, as appropriate to the species, a solid, comfortable resting area for all animals shall be provided. All sleeping areas shall be kept clean and dry.”
The amount of cage space afforded common laboratory animals, such as mice and rats, differs between the European Directive and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals—a common standard used for determining suitable cage space for rodents in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. Although a direct comparison between European and U.S. cage space for rodents cannot be precise due to the different weight categories used in the Directive and the Guide, it is clear that in general more cage space is afforded mice and rats in Europe.
The use of animals in research is increasing in China due in part to outsourcing of animal work to that country, but also due to accelerating support from the Chinese government for a strong biomedical research program designed to benefit the Chinese people. Concomitant with this growing industry is a change in societal concern for animal welfare. As an example, Davey and colleagues have documented this both in student attitudes toward animal welfare (Davey 2006) and in zoos (Davey et al. 2005). In the first instance, he polled students about their level of concern for animal welfare across a variety of issues. His results affirmed that Chinese society has generally positive attitudes toward animal welfare initiatives. In the latter study he and his colleagues evaluated the impact on the Chinese public of zoo exhibits that included environmental enrichment. The enriched exhibit promoted greater zoo visitor interest, measured by the duration of the visit to the exhibit and other parameters.
More specific to the laboratory animal environment, of note, the Guidelines on the Humane Treatment of Laboratory Animals (2006) published by the Ministry of Science and Technology state that the facility and environment must provide for the animals’ behavioral and physiological needs. Also, the topic of the animal’s housing environment, including enrichment, is being discussed at conferences more often such as, http://www.ibclifesciences.com/china/overview.xml
Other Pacific Rim Countries
The concept of providing enrichment to laboratory animals is well entrenched in several countries in this part of the world. For example, at the 6th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, Hachisu (2006) reported that
“People are now more interested in toys for animals and improving cage sizes, thinking what toys are best for which animals and how cage sizes should not limit animal activities….”
In Singapore, the Guidelines on the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (NACLAR 2004) state, as examples:
“Most animals used in Projects are housed in environments dissimilar to their natural habitats. Wherever possible, such animals should be provided with stimuli that promote the expression of normal behavior appropriate to the species.
Almost all species of animals used in Projects have well defined social structures and prefer to live in groups, although care must be taken to ensure that animals are socially compatible. Individual housing is stressful for such animals, and social isolation should be avoided whenever possible and limited to meet specific Project objectives. The effects of physical isolation should be minimized where possible by:
(a) the use of non-contact communication, whether visual, auditory or olfactory;
(b) the judicious use of mirrors, which can be helpful;
(c) increasing the complexity of an environment with apparatus such as climbing equipment, objects and gnawing sticks as may be appropriate to the species concerned.”
As a final example, the Laboratory Animal Scientist’s Association—India (http://www.lasaindia.orghttp://www.lasaindia.org) has as one of their objectives the promotion of the 3Rs. Environmental enrichment is broadly considered a Refinement, and thus falls under the purview of LASA’s aims.
The on-site assessments of animal care and use programs conducted by AAALAC International worldwide include the implementation of a behavioral management program by the institution undergoing the accreditation evaluation. The data from site visit findings are periodically analyzed and shared to assist institutions in better understanding AAALAC’s expectations for accredited animal care and use programs (for the most recent publication of these data, see https://www.aaalac.org/commerce/bookstore.cfm The chart on page 6 shows the percent of Behavioral Management mandatory items for correction of all mandatory findings in the category of Animal Environment. The relatively low percentage (approximately 10%) of findings in this component of the animal care and use program support the concept that institutions seeking accreditation (albeit a subset of all institutions using animals for research, testing and teaching) understand the importance of providing enrichment in accordance with the Guide.
Kathryn Bayne, M.S., Ph.D., D.V.M., is Global Director for the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC). Previously she led a research program at the National Institutes of Health on nonhuman primate psychological well being and environmental enrichment programs for primates, dogs, cats and swine. A certified applied animal behaviorist and a Diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, Dr. Bayne is a member of the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) Council and has served on the National Academies’ committees to revise the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, Psychological Well-Being of Nonhuman Primates, Occupational Health and Safety in the Care of Nonhuman Primates, and Guidelines for the Care and Use of Mammals in Neuroscience and Behavioral Research. She was the 1998 recipient of AALAS’s prestigious Garvey award, the AVMA’s 2009 Animal Welfare Award and Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s 2009 Distinguished Alumnus Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research.