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USDA report outlines severe animal neglect at University of Memphis research lab

According to the report obtained by ABC24, 27 rodents have died since April, and several others injured, while under the care of the research lab.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the University of Memphis on three critical and six non-critical non-compliance issues after finding dead and injured test animals at an animal research lab on campus. 

The USDA released an August 23 inspection report of the University of Memphis' animal research lab, saying the university neglected test animals and created conditions that led to the deaths of 27 rodents since April. 

According to the report, since July 19, 15 Damaraland mole rats died in the main housing of the lab designed to hold 250. Among these, some had to be euthanized due to medical conditions for which the lab did not have medication for.

In the eight months before July 19, four mole rats died in the same facility. 

During the inspection, the associate director of the research lab indicated many of the rats had been getting into fights recently and were becoming increasingly agitated due to stresses in the lab, including malfunctioning lights that kept lights on 24 hours a day, and noise from a recently installed dehumidifier. 

The increase in fights among the rats left some visibly injured, with one rat missing a leg, another having an eye swollen shut and a leg red with infection.

The USDA said both of those issues were corrected, but also pointed to other issues. 

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Another 12 voles, similar to hamsters, died in April when the HVAC unit in the life sciences building failed, according to the report. 

The USDA also found veterinarian technicians in the lab were misidentifying species of mole rats, which they said could lead to medical issues. 

The lab also does not have an emergency contingency plan in place, such as one for a natural disaster, which could lead to more animal deaths if such an emergency were to take place.

Animal rights groups are calling on the U of M to be fined potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars as punishment for the neglect. 

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The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the USDA considers such incidents to be grave failures.

"The school should modernize its research program by leaving cruel and archaic experiments on animals behind and using only sophisticated, human-relevant research methods instead," PETA said in a statement. 

For its part, the university admitted to the violations, saying in a statement: "We regret the unfortunate circumstances that led to the death and euthanasia of a number of research mole rats and voles. Protocols have been reviewed to ensure such instances are not repeated, and changes have been made to approve accountability and required conditions in these areas."

The university also said it's in full compliance with federal and other research regulations related to such cases.

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