Meeting the Challenges in Oversight of Wildlife Research

PRIM&R recently hosted a webinar on Meeting the Challenges in Oversight of Wildlife Research. Afterwards, the presenters, John A. Bryan, II, DVM, MS , and Robert S. Sikes, PhD, answered questions submitted by webinar attendees for us to share with Ampersand readers. 

1. Can you share strategies for handling post-approval reviews of wildlife protocols?

Robert_SikesRobert S. Sikes (RSS): Post-approval monitoring (PAM) can be accomplished in many ways. Although travel to remote sites might not be feasible, today’s technology opens up many options not possible even a few years back. Digital recording is often easily accomplished if there are enough team members to ensure that actual procedures or animal safety are not compromised. Even a simple conversation with team members regarding procedures and any unexpected outcomes might meet the needs of the IACUC. Real-time communication can assist with unexpected events and has been used by many teams.

John_BryanJohn A. Bryan (JAB): Indeed, there are many ways to get this done and technology is key in this day and age. We’ve had principal investigators (PIs) send in photographs, videos (some posted on YouTube), and written reports, along with telephone calls. Sending IACUC members out to observe field work is always great, and PIs are often receptive to this. Another recommendation (as shared by the USDA, APHIS, Animal Care) is to have designated individuals who may not be voting members of the IACUC, but who can observe and report back to the IACUC.

2. What are some examples of “management actions” that would be outside the scope of IACUC review? Could long-term population monitoring (that might even involve handling of animals) be considered a management action?

JAB: The analogy I often use here is the same that I gave during the webinar: you may have a graduate student whose dissertation involves the study of white-tailed deer (WtD) population densities in the context of habitat carrying capacity (whether or not WtD are eating themselves out of house and home) and involving lethal capture. The completed and published dissertation may state that there are indeed too many WtD in a given area, and that their overall herd health would be improved by culling. This may prompt the state agency that administers/manages that overpopulated area to do just that: cull some WtD. The culling action would be a management action, and would not necessarily require IACUC oversight. It would, however, need to be conducted with the utmost care and attention toward “best practices”. Other management actions that would not require IACUC oversight might include spot interventions needed to ensure the health and/or well-being of an animal (e.g., a WtD caught in a fence). In some instances, relocation efforts may not fall under IACUC oversight (e.g., moving a species from one area to another for the sole purposes of re-establishing a population, with no intended research component).

3. Our occupation health physician is contracted through a local urgent care center and has little to no expertise regarding wildlife studies. Other than seeking out a specialist, how do other institutes deal with this issue

RSS: It’s unclear whether this question pertains to risk assessment or to treatment. If treatment, the most important step is to inform the health care provider of recent field work and animal exposure so that they can start thinking of zoonoses if necessary. If treatment is required, this situation warrants serious considerations of potential agents and perhaps consultation with specialists.

JAB: I agree. With risk assessment, the IACUC can do its best to inform collaborating physicians about the potential risks associated with patients coming in from the field; with treatment, that is the purview of the physician(s).

4. About half of our IACUC protocols have field research components. Periodically our investigators encounter a diseased or injured animal that is a non-target species and wish to give treatment or euthanize the animal. Investigators may not be trained in recognizing disease states or in euthanasia techniques for an off-target species. As an IACUC we recommend investigators leave the animal alone and contact appropriate state or federal agencies. Do you have any additional thoughts on encountering injured/diseased non-target species?

RSS: Injuries and diseases happen in nature. Some of these animals live and even breed long after an injury that an investigator might think warrants euthanasia. There are many accounts of three-legged wild animals doing fine. This is a situation where I would let nature take its course. This is true also for injured target animals where the injury was not a result of investigator actions.

JAB: Biologists and veterinarians keep more of an ecological perspective on their efforts, and are apt to let nature run its course (e.g., we don’t airlift an elk with a broken leg to a vet hospital). Mountain lions and/or other predators will more appropriately take care of that situation. A dead deer in the forest has just as important a role to play in the health of that ecosystem as does a live deer.

Dr. Bryan and Dr. Sikes also shared a list of resources, which you can find here.

PRIM&R would like to thank Dr. Bryan and Dr. Sikes for sharing their expertise on this important topic. Do you have an idea for an IACUC-themed webinar? Share it with us at

If you were unable to attend this webinar and are interested in purchasing the archive, you may do so here.