Victory! More than 100 birds have been spared torment and death at the hands of an experimenter in Switzerland after a court there sided with PETA and other animal protectors by canceling the pointless experiments before they had even started.
In 2020, Richard Hahnloser, the experimenter, petitioned the Zurich Animal Experiments Commission to conduct a heinous experiment on 108 zebra finches that would study the birds’ brains while they learned how to sing, ostensibly to help understand human speech.
The proposal was horrendous. Here are the details:
- Experimenters proposed drilling five to 12 holes into each bird’s skull and then surgically attaching a device to the skull so that they could inject compounds and insert brain-manipulating devices directly into their brains.
- A tube would have been surgically implanted into each bird behind their last rib, and two to four electrodes would have been surgically placed on the muscles that control their vocalizations. A blunt needle would have been used to channel wires under the birds’ skin.
- Each bird would have been tethered to the top of their tiny cage and would have been forced to wear a small backpack with recording equipment.
- The birds would have been killed and dissected after the experiments were over.
The commission—a panel of 11 members, three of whom are from animal protection organizations—decides whether applications for experiments on animals are approved. Anyone in Switzerland planning to conduct such experiments must submit a detailed application, and the proposal is then evaluated to weigh the harm to animals against the purported benefits.
The commission first approved this experiment, but the three members from animal protection groups—including an employee of the Foundation for Animals in Law (TIR)—appealed, landing the case in an administrative court.
TIR and the two other organizations asked PETA for some scientific support, and our scientists jumped into action.
Dr. Katherine Roe, chief of our Science Advancement and Outreach division, tore into the scientific merit of the use of zebra finches to model human speech and showed how human-relevant research could address the questions posed by the experiment, without pointless bloodshed. Veterinarian Dr. Ingrid Taylor focused on the harm that birds would endure in Hahnloser’s cruel experiments.
“It is our firm and unequivocal position that the harms that would be experienced by the birds proposed to be used by Professor Hahnloser cannot be justified for the benefits claimed in the application,” Roe and Taylor wrote. “We have outlined alternative methods that would provide human-relevant insights into the questions that Professor Hahnloser is hoping to answer; these alternative methods would constitute a superior approach to the issues of interest.”
The administrative court agreed with our arguments and disallowed the experiments, sparing more than 100 birds multiple invasive surgeries and death.
PETA will continue to shine a light on how such experiments are little more than violent exercises that cheat human patients who are waiting for effective treatments. Far better research methods are available, and they’re detailed in our Research Modernization Deal, which provides a strategy for replacing animal experiments with modern, human-relevant research.