University of Otago scientist receives award to improve conditions for research pigeons

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A University of Otago psychology and neuroscience researcher has received an award to improve the welfare of animals used in research, testing and teaching.

Dr Damian Scarf receives the inaugural $50,000 Aotearoa New Zealand 3Rs award research grant, coordinated by the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC).

He will use the grant to build an environment and develop computer systems where trained research pigeons can be observed in a more natural environment. The new environment has been coined the FLAP – free-range learning apparatus for pigeons.

NAEAC Chair Grant Shackell said the new environment will have a significant impact on the welfare of the pigeons, which are essential to Dr Scarf’s research of adolescent behaviour and child development.

"Research involving observed behaviours of trained pigeons has contributed so much to our knowledge of learning, memory and behaviour, but the current laboratory approach has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s.

"The system that Dr Scarf will develop will give the pigeons a more natural environment where they can display their natural patterns of behaviour, while still maintaining the integrity and standard of the research findings."

This is the second of 2 grants made as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand 3Rs awards, launched by NAEAC last year.

"The 3Rs – replace, reduce, refine – promote the reduction and replacement of animals used in research, testing, and teaching, and the refinement of experimental techniques to minimise pain or distress," says NAEAC chair Grant Shackell.

Background information

The Aotearoa New Zealand 3Rs awards encourage and support projects proactively finding ways to replace, reduce, or refine the use of animals in research, testing, and teaching. The awards are sponsored by AgResearch Ltd, the Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching, Lincoln University, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Massey University, the Ministry for Primary Industries, the University of Otago, and Victoria University of Wellington. Awards will be presented every two years. Applications for the next round will open in 2021.

NAEAC is a statutory committee established under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to provide independent advice to the Minister responsible for animal welfare on the use of animals in research, testing and teaching. NAEAC actively encourages the application of the 3Rs principles in research, testing and teaching through its publications, guidance and training workshops for animal ethics committees.

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