The Journal of History     Summer 2006    TABLE OF CONTENTS

Rats have rights, too

Colleen McDuling BSc (Med) (Hons), MSc (Med Sci)

Anyone who has lived with rats will attest to the fact that they are extraordinary, sensitive and resourceful creatures, with a well-documented capacity for altruism. They are shamelessly and brutally exploited both in the vivisector's laboratory, and in the psychologist's maze, expendable commodities murdered in their millions around the world.

There are probably few world authorities better equipped to discuss the uniqueness of this species than Colleen McDuling, whose scientific career spans many years. A Medical Technologist in Clinical Pathology and Haematology, she read for a Bachelor's degree in Science with a double major in Microbiology and Human Physiology. She graduated from the University of Cape Town with an Honours degree in Clinical Pharmacology, and later with a Masters in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry from the University of Stellenbosch.

She has worked extensively as a research scientist in Molecular Pathology and Biochemistry, and has lectured widely on these subjects, none of which have ever involved the use of experiments on sentient beings for a result. Indeed, her Masters thesis dealt with transfection of synthetic genetic material into human HeLa cells using the transferrin receptor-mediated endocytosis pathway; in order to study this area, she developed a replacement strategy to animal-based research. For example, she used human serum as an alternative to foetal calf serum as a cell growth medium.

Throughout her extensive academic career, she has expanded her vast knowledge of the complex rodent family, many of whom - once surplus to requirements - were lucky enough to end up in her care after a life in the laboratory. Her radical thinking on the exploitation of animals has gained her enemies during her career, but she continues to be a powerful ally for the movement.

Rats!!! Evil beady eyes ... scaly tail ... filthy dirty vermin... But are they? Over the centuries, rodents, and especially rats and mice have been regarded with suspicion. They have been associated with sorcery and disease, and generally much maligned. However, this opinion is slowly changing, largely due to the fact that a good many people now have them in their homes as companion animals, and also due to the fact that they have been used vastly in medical research. In the latter, they are deemed to be extremely useful. A staggering 85% of animals used in research are mice and rats, with 67% being mice. A further 2% are other rodents, namely hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and others. Considering that around 3 million animals are killed in research each year, this equates to a phenomenal 2.3 million rats and mice killed in the name of science. But can experimentation on any living being ever be justified? Let us take a closer look at rats.

I have had a large amount of experience with rats, and can attest that they are highly intelligent, affectionate, and feeling (sentient) creatures. I have lived with them, and studied them for almost two decades. My first rat, Benjamin, revealed to me things that I never imagined were possible from such a tiny creature. The affection, intelligence, ability to exhibit complex behavioural patterns and his general demeanour fascinated me. This tiny animal taught me concepts that no university professor could ever have done. I was reading for a pre-medical Bachelors degree at the time. He sparked off a thirst for knowledge in the biology and natural behaviour of rodents. And so the studies and behavioural observations began until I became a sought-after freelance consultant in this field. This was aside from my formal scientific training where I obtained a Masters degree in the Medical Sciences.

During my career as a research scientist, I was exposed to vivisection. Most scientific papers are derived from work on rats. Being absolutely opposed to vivisection, the abuse of these beautiful and sentient animals left me shattered and stunned. I saw things that would give one nightmares for the rest of one's life. As my knowledge of rodents and especially rats grew, I was even more committed to helping them and to bringing about the end of vivisection on them. I saw the conditions of deprivation in which they were housed, and the utter lack of sensitivity of the vivisectionists dealing with them. I started to rescue rats, mice, guinea-pigs and rabbits that were no longer needed for a study or who were surplus to laboratory requirements. Most of these animals were placed in loving homes where they would see out the rest of their natural lives in peace, and many remained with me. The mice were housed in very large fish tanks with plenty of environmental enrichment to keep them happy, as they would never have been able to survive on their own.

(Continue to part b)


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