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BLOG: Researchers Scare Mice – Eunice Wilson

We reported last weekend about a new scientific study, funded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) which has called into question the validity of many scientific studies using mice, after discovering their behaviour depends on how they have been handled.

Mice held by the base of their tails, showed more stress and anxiety compared to those who were able to sit inside a special designed tunnel while being moved from one area to another.

Mice are the most common animal to suffer in animal research in laboratories around the world, with millions enduring horrific experiments before being killed. Although recommendations are given regarding the husbandry of mice in laboratories, very often they end up in small, overcrowded tanks with no toys or objects to stimulate them or even places where they can hide away.

Staff at some laboratories have even forgotten to feed and give water to mice, while undercover films have shown mice not only being experimented on, but also being abused and killed without any thought to them being sentient beings. Mice might be small and seem insignificant, but they are actually smart, interesting animals whose personalities aren’t that different to humans.

I have spent the past few years looking after rescue mice and their personalities have been varied. Some have been friendly, outgoing and confident, others shy and reserved. There have been some who have been adventurous and loved to explore and climb, while others have been the complete opposite. Mice prefer living in groups and often have a social hierarchy.

They love to groom each other and sleep together, although they will sometimes fight and squabble, even bully each other as well. Like I said, they aren’t too different to people! When they are happy or excited they ‘popcorn’, which means they do little jumps like popcorn popping in a saucepan. Mice in laboratories rarely have the space to ‘popcorn’ and have very little quality of life. They don’t often have the chance to live naturally. The only time they get to escape their cages is when they are experimented on. If they are handled roughly and then have to undergo painful experiments, of course they are going to react differently compared to mice not treated that way. After all, people who have had bad experiences often react with anxiety and fear, so why would it be different for mice or any other animal?

In the past, I’ve treated some of my mice with medicine that they haven’t particularly liked the taste of and after a day or so, they have taken to hiding. Those that didn’t liked being handled also realised that if they went inside a tube or a box that they would be caught and receive the medicine, so they stopped going into the tubes and any other container they could be trapped in.

Mice are clever and learn fast, both from each other and from the experiences they’ve had. Most of my mice recognise their names. They might not hear them exactly how I say them, but they certainly know who’s who. Sadly for mice in laboratories, not only are they imprisoned inside small tanks and forced to endure sometimes very painful experiments, they don’t even have the dignity of having a name. They are just a number from the day they are born until the day they are killed.

Surely they deserve better than this – don’t they?

(Click here to see more images of mice by Eunice Wilson)