Voles and Finches and Snakes, Oh My! Navigating the Housing and Care of Nontraditional Species

By Angela Craig, DVM, lab animal veterinarian and IACUC member at the University of Minnesota

PRIM&R is pleased to share a post from Angela Craig, a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad for the 2015 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Conference. The PRIM&R Blog Squad is composed of PRIM&R members who blog here, on Ampersand, to give our readers an inside peek of what is happening at the conference in Boston, MA.

If you typically house laboratory mice at your institution, their identification as the species needed for use on a study presents few challenges. IACUCs are well-versed in reviewing their care and use, and their husbandry and veterinary requirements are well-defined in The Guide and other references. But, when the species needed for a study is nontraditional, it requires a new approach. Managing Nontraditional Species When They Come Into the Laboratory, a didactic session at the 2015 IACUC Conference presented by Joanne Morris, DVM, DACLAM and Robert S. Sikes, PhD, provided attendees with a full toolkit of ideas and resources related to this topic. I am excited to share this helpful information with you by summarizing a few of their key points.
Logically, the planning for housing nontraditional species begins well before they arrive at your institution. Information about the preferred housing conditions of species is available from expert biologists, zoologists, and field veterinarians. Preparing for nontraditional species takes a team approach with the IACUC, husbandry staff, vets, principal investigators (PIs), and expert consultants all coming together with the common goal of ensuring the humane care and use of these unique animals.
If you don’t have a resident expert on site and easily accessible, numerous resources exist to help inform the decisions you make. Dr. Sikes identified taxon-specific guidelines available for mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. General enough to encompass many species, these resources outline important areas for consideration including husbandry, capture methods, safety, and humane handling. To avoid reinventing the wheel, Dr. Morris suggested contacting organizations who have already housed these species in captivity. You can benefit from their guidance and avoid mistakes. And, in my experience, the PI is often knowledgeable about their species of interest and committed to ensuring appropriate care. They are a welcome resource.
Also critical is the issue of permits and regulatory documentation required for some species. The complexities of this could bog you down like a field researcher’s boots in the mud, but here, too, there is enlightenment in the literature. A 2013 Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) Journal article summarizes the permits needed and offers suggestions for how IACUCs and researchers can effectively navigate this concern.
These resources are just a few of the many available to us when we are faced with the daunting task of providing the best possible environment for nontraditional species. Sometimes you just need to know where to look when seeking best practices, and this session was a compass pointing me in the right direction. One great resource led to another and my computer is now packed with helpful bookmarks. With these quality resources identified, I look forward to the opportunity of putting them to use for the benefit of animals I have the honor of caring for in the future.