Speaking of UW research, Isthmus made an interesting discovery when, in reporting on the resignation of a UW veterinarian ("Campus Vet Quits, Faulting Animal Care," 12/17/10), it obtained the university's 2010 census of animals used or kept by the UW-Madison.
The most popular UW animal, more than monkeys, pigs, dogs, hamsters, rats and even mice - or even all three dozen varieties of listed animals combined - is fish. For the covered period (10/1/09 to 9/30/10), the UW used or held 433,221 of them.
These are, for the most part, zebrafish. According to Terry Devitt, the campus' top science spokesman, these "are primarily used to study developmental biology, ranging from the basic steps of embryonic development to the genetic and environmental factors involved in development of diseases."
Devitt says the nonprofit group that serves as the UW's primary source of zebrafish charges $20-$150 for an adult pair or, more commonly, $50-$100 for 100 embryos. The cost is high because "the fish have some special characteristics that make them useful for particular lines of research."
But most if not all of the UW's adult fish, he says, are maintained as self-sustaining breeding colonies, meaning "the vast majority of the zebrafish on campus were probably bred here rather than purchased." Research involving adult zebrafish is subject to animal care rules and oversight committees; research on zebrafish embryos, the majority, is not.
Rick Bogle, co-director of the local Alliance for Animals, cites "a growing body of evidence" suggesting that fish are intelligent and social animals, able like dogs and cats to think, feel and suffer. He says the UW's fish are "kept in environmentally bleak conditions and are unlikely to engender much concern or sympathy from those using them."