Animal Science Research
The research programme of the Animal Science Department (ASD) is primarily directed to colony health and to creating supportive tools for the research programmes of the other departments. To undertake this the ASD has laboratories for haematology, clinical chemistry, clinical microbiology and histology/pathology. These laboratories are similar to those found in any well equipped hospital.
One example of an ongoing project is the establishment of 'normal values' (haematology and clinical chemistry) for different primate species. This is important because these normal values serve as reference points for the routine annual health checks which are performed on all animals by our team of veterinarians. The availability of normal values is also important for all animals that participate in an experiment. Any deviation from the normal value range is an indication that something is going on that needs special attention.
Clinical chemistry lab
The ASD also has a series of ongoing projects that monitor the microbiological status of individual animals, and evaluate spontaneously occurring diseases that occur the colony. It is important to know the 'background' pathology in the colony and the disciplines of microbiology and histology/pathology are central to this. Spontaneously occurring diseases in animals sometimes serve as research models for serious human diseases.
Division of Pathology and Microbiology
The functions of the division can be divided into three main areas:
- Diagnostic pathology
- Experimental pathology
The diagnostic pathology includes necropsies, biopsies and diagnoses of animals with spontaneous diseases from the breeding colony of BPRC and on request histological examinations and diagnoses of different animals (mice, rats, non-human primates) from external institutions. The experimental pathology provides tissues and diagnostics for internal scientific investigators and assists in the direction and specialized scientific expertise for research projects using non-human primates. The microbiology lab is dedicated to monitoring of the intestinal and respiratory microflora in the non-human primates and identifying the etiological agent(s) of animals with spontaneous diseases. The Division is also contact point for the BPRC primate tissue bank.
Housing and Enrichment
Other important research projects that are currently ongoing include the development and introduction of environmental enrichment tools for the animals. Associated with this is a programme for the socialisation of animals that have a history of single housing. The policy of BPRC is that, unless it is strictly necessary for a project (and this is assessed by the Animal Experimental Committee), all animals should be housed in social groups.
Social housing wherever possible is a goal that BPRC has set itself to achieve in the near future. At present the construction of new facilities for the animals is finished. Nearly all the BPRC monkeys are enjoying their new social housing (see Rebuilding BPRC).
The process in which animals (used to solitary housing) are introduced to social groups is complex. It is not possible to randomly put animals together in one cage because they will fight and seriously wound one another as they struggle to detemine their 'pecking order' within the group. The process of socialisation is gradual and is done very carefully. The animals are under constant observation during the socialisation process. This is all being carried out under the supervision of an ethologist (a behavioural expert) and has already resulted in the establishment of a large number of stable breeding groups. These are housed in large outside enclosures with free access to inside facilities whenever required.