Opportunistic research on free-living wildlife
These Guidelines have been prepared for use by two groups:
- researchers who work in the field with free living Australian native animals
- members of Animal Ethics Committees (AeCs ) that supervise this research.
The guidelines apply to unexpected situations that occur in the field where it is impossible to contact the AEC. An example of such a situation is during a fauna survey when an endangered species is trapped in an area where it was not thought to exist.
The question of whether to collect data from the animal and/or identify it in some way would then arise and the procedure would be a major deviation from the approved research protocol. Researchers in such situations may decide that such an opportunity will not be presented again and therefore may elect to carry out research that has not been approved.
It is the opinion of the Group that certain procedures may be justifiable under particular conditions, as long as the AEC is informed and their approval is sought as soon as possible after the event.
These Guidelines are to assist researchers and AECs in their deliberations. They should not be seen as replacing the normal process of applying for AEC approval as required under the Animal Research Act 1985.
Procedures considered to be justifiable under certain conditions are listed under Section 3.0. Activities which are not considered acceptable without specific approval by an Ethics Committee are also listed (see Section 4.0).
1.0 Circumstances where collection of animal data may be justified without prior approval.
The decision lies with the Animal Care and Ethics Committee for each particular situation as to whether the research was justified. Each situation should therefore be judged on its own merits by the AEC.
Failure to justify the research to the AEC's satisfaction will result in the individual being in breach of the Animal Research Act and therefore open to prosecution and/or disciplinary proceedings.
New personnel unfamiliar with the techniques should not carry out opportunistic research.
Carrying out the approved activities without prior permission maybe justifiable if the following applies:
1.1 The animal is strongly suspected of being a rare or endangered species.
1.2 The information obtained may never be available again.
1.3 The information obtained may prove invaluable to the survival of the species.
1.4 The person carrying out the opportunistic research is the holder of a Section 171 Scientific Authority from the NSW NPWS or has held one in the previous 12 months and is the holder of a current Research Authority from an AEC.
As the onus is placed on the individual, researchers should carefully consider whether or not they can justify their actions to the AEC.
2.0 Approved Activities
Activities considered to be justifiable if carried out under the conditions specified are:
2.1 Observation of behaviour including prolonged observation with a spotlight.
2.2 Photography including the use of a flash.
2.3 Collection of samples; skin scrapings, milk, hair, feathers, scales, faeces by non-invasive methods.
2.4 Collection of blood when samples are being taken anyway and the volume of blood would not be significantly increased and would not have significant impact on the welfare of the animal.
2.5 Measurement of; body weight, respiration rate, heart rate, pulse rate, body temperature and body lengths.
2.6 Close examination of; physical condition, external genitalia, pouch/pouch young, nest, eggs, bower, den sites, that involves handling and/or removal of animals, eggs or other objects.
2.7 Capture of an animal by the approved method(s) including to collect samples and measurements as above.
2.8 Identification by; banding, tagging, or implantation of a microchip (microchips should be used in preference to other forms of identification).
2.9 Temporary holding by the approved method(s).
2.10 Short distance transportation by the approved method(s).
2.11 Use of methods to attract animals, such as 'playback' and simulated calls, if used for less than thirty minutes.
3.0 Procedures that should not be undertaken
The following procedures are considered to be unacceptable without prior AEC approval:
3.1collection of samples other than by the approved methods;
3.2 identification by - tattooing, toe clipping, techniques other than the approved method;
3.3 any invasive examination or technique including; surgery, transportation or holding for prolonged periods or using other than the approved method, attachment of an external or implantation of an internal radio transmitter.
4.0 Voucher Specimens
The collection of voucher specimens both planned and opportunistic are outlined in guidelines on voucher specimens to be published separately.
5.0 Records to be kept by the AEC
The AEC should be informed by the investigator as soon as possible that research has been carried out. The AEC should consider whether these guidelines have been followed. Retrospective approval may then be given. A record of the number and type of opportunistic research procedures must be kept. This must be provided to the Animal Research Review Panel as part of the institution's Annual Return.
Animal Research Review Panel Guideline 1