PETA alleges mistreatment of bats during UC Berkeley research

Photo of a short-nosed fruit bat
AntanO/Creative Commons
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, alleged that UC Berkeley mistreats bats, and PETA research associate Emily Trunnell also alleged that the campus engages in breeding and capturing bats. According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, no bats are being mistreated at UC Berkeley. (Photo by AntanO under CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Following multiple reports of bats sustaining injuries or dying during UC Berkeley research, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, alleged that UC Berkeley mistreats bats in animal facilities and called upon campus to switch to safer, human-based research.

In the past four years, UC Berkeley has been cited three times by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, for violating the Animal Welfare Act, a federal regulation that provides “minimum protections” to animals in laboratories, said Emily Trunnell, PETA research associate, in an email.

The most recent USDA inspection report, published Oct. 19, detailed a “critical” incident that was self-reported by a UC Berkeley facility in which a bat was left unable to fly after sustaining an injury.

“UC Berkeley breeds bats and captures them from their wild homes,” Trunnell alleged in an email. “Not only is keeping and using bats in this way unethical and harmful to these animals, it is an environmental and public health hazard.”

Trunnell added that safety concerns for bats have been increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the risk of humans and bats being able to transmit COVID-19 to each other.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the well-being of animals during research experiments is “the first consideration” for researchers. Gilmore said in an email that any incidents of injury in laboratories are thoroughly investigated, noting that standard operating procedures have been reviewed to increase animal safety after reported injuries and in light of the pandemic.

“We do not believe that the bats – nor any animal used in research and/or teaching – are mistreated here at UC Berkeley,” Gilmore said in the email.

Trunnell also alleged that UC Berkeley’s research on bats is “invasive and deadly.” She alleged that a UC Berkeley study was “terrorizing” bats with continuous noise played to them to hinder their vocal development.

Gilmore said in the email that PETA’s allegations about this study are not true. According to Gilmore, white noise was played to bats at the volume level of normal human conversation. The purpose of the study was to identify how the brain behaves during social interactions, and the results could be used to help diagnose human diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, Gilmore added in the email.

According to Trunnell, she previously used animals in her research herself, and she urged UC Berkeley researchers to consider that “it’s not too late to change the course of their research.”

Contact Amudha Sairam at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmudhaSairam.

A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a statement made by Emily Trunnell to Janet Gilmore.