At Leibniz-IZW, experiments with animals are carried out regularly. This page explains, among other things, the reasons, the animal species studied, the stress, the legal framework and the procedure of animal studies at the IZW.
According to its mission, the Leibniz-IZW conducts research for the conservation of wildlife species. An effective protection of wildlife is only possible if behaviour and adaptability of the protected species are known and the effects of environmental conditions, human influences and protective measures on these animals can be assessed. It is the task of the Leibniz-IZW scientists to gain this knowledge in the most comprehensive manner possible. Experiments with animals of a study species are often indispensable. Our experiments help us to understand their behaviour and the complex adaptations of wild animals to their natural environment in order to develop scientifically sound concepts and methods for species conservation. The results of these studies can be found in numerous publication.
Most of the Leibniz-IZW's experiments with wildlife animals take place in their own habitat. The adaptation of animals to their environment and their reactions to environmental changes such as habitat fragmentation, climate change or urbanisation can only be studied on animals in the field because the complex interactions cannot be simulated in enclosures or laboratories.
For many projects at the Leibniz-IZW, wildlife individuals need to be captured, e.g. to mark them so that they can be easily and clearly identified during the course of the study. In order to investigate their movement patterns and behaviour, animals are equipped with telemetry transmitters. The ongoing technical development in this field has led to much smaller, lighter and technically improved transmitters, markedly decreasing the animals' burden by carrying the transmitters while at the same time allowing to collect more data over longer periods of time.
According to European law, the capture of wildlife animals and the fitting of telemetry collars are considered animal experiments. Sampling (e.g. blood, saliva, hair) for further laboratory analysis must also be applied for and approved as an animal experiment.
Some studies require regular, repeated examination of the same animal, e.g. to understand specific physiological processes in the animal. Such studies are carried out at our field research station where different animal species are kept. The animals either stay for the duration of the project and they are released afterwards or they are permanently kept for breeding purposes.
Under current EU legislation, animal studies are divided into different procedure categories according to severity. A distinction is made between low, medium and severe procedures, as well as procedures in which an animal is killed for tissue removal for scientific purposes. You can find more information about the exposure levels here.
At the Leibniz-IZW animal experiments are almost exclusively assigned to the category "low severity" (e.g. wearing a telemetry collar). Very few are classified as “moderate” because studies require some kind of surgical intervention. A few Leibniz-IZW studies examine the organs of animals after the animals have been humanely killed.
In the last five years field studies have been conducted on:
- Several bat speices (e.g. common noctule),
- European brown hares,
- Field mice,
- Red foxes,
- Birds of prey (e.g. sea eagles),
- Water birds (e.g. Egyptian goose ), and
- Wild boar.
Investigations on wildlife animals kept at the Leibniz-IZW or at the field research station during the last five years were carried out on:
- European brown hares (breeding),
- Naked mole rats (breeding),
- Roe deer (breeding),
- Multiple European bat species,
- Snow hares (project finished),
- Wild guinea pigs (project finished)
Despite the inevitability of animal experiments in our research, we place high importance on the 3R principle. The 3 Rs stand for "Replace, Reduce, Refine". You can find more information on the 3Rs here.
As much as possible, we try to avoid the use of animal experiments and we try to develop or use alternatives. Our scientists also develop non-invasive methods to replace animal testing:
For example, they improve the methods of hormone analyses from urine or hair, obtain genetic material from faeces samples, use wildlife cameras to document the occurrence and behaviour of wildlife, examine internal organs by ultrasound or computed tomography or use stable isotopes to determine the diet and origin of animals.
Where animal experiments are unavoidable, it is in our own interest to keep the number of animals in the experiments as low as possible. For this reason, statistical calculations are made in the planning phase to determine the absolutely necessary minimum number of animals. In addition, we try to reduce the burden on the animals to a minimum by constantly using the most modern test and analysis methods to generate as much information as possible from the use of as few animals as possible.
Germany has one of the strictest animal protection laws worldwide. It is based on the "Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes", which was last revised in 2010. In Germany, animal experiments are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act and the "Animal Welfare - Laboratory Animals Ordinance". In 2002, animal protection was included as a state objective in the Basic Law (Article 20a). Every animal experiment must be approved by the responsible governmental authority. In addition to an extensive literature research to show the current state of knowledge of the specific research question, the application procedure also includes a statistical calculation regarding the minimum number of animals required. For each animal experiment application, the procedure (degree of distress) for the animals must be estimated and justified in advance, as to why the scientific benefit ethically justifies the respective distress for the animals. For all protected wildlife species, in addition to the application for an animal experiment, an exceptional permit must be obtained from the responsible nature conservation authority. Furthermore, animal experiments may only be carried out by trained and educated persons. These persons are subject to constant monitoring by the animal protection officer and the responsible governmental authority. Each step in an animal experiment is recorded and the number of animals used is annually reported to the responsible governmental authority.
Further detailed information on the subject of animal testing can be found on the homepages of various organisations.
The English language equivalent of the German "Tierversuche verstehen" was founded in the UK in 2008 and provides a wide range of information including videos for the public. In addition, journalists, schools and students can use prepared material.
„Tierversuche verstehen“ is an initiative of German science community, coordinated by the Alliance of Science Organisations. It provides comprehensive, up-to-date and fact-based information on animal experiments at publicly funded research institutions.
As a non-university research institution, it is important to the Leibniz Association to deal transparently with the topic of animal experiments. Several Leibniz scientists - including the Leibniz-IZW Animal Welfare Officer - present and explain their animal experimental work in short video clips.
The brochure "Animal Experiments in Research" published by the Senate Commission for Animal Experimental Research of the German Research Foundation (DFG) provides up-to-date and comprehensive information on numbers and application areas of animal experiments, legal regulations and the ethical basis of animal experimental research up to the possibilities and limits of alternative methods.
„ProTest Germany“ is an educational organization that aims to provide reliable information about using animals in both basic and applied research. Founded in 2015, the platform provides factual information on the benefits of animal testing with the aim of providing a better understanding of animal testing. The focus is specifically laid on a dialogue with the public.
In a fashion intelligible to all the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) publishes project summaries of approved animal experiments in Germany in the AnimalTestInfo database. Information on the number of animals used, animal species and procedures can be found here.
The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture publishes the annual figures on animal experiments in Germany. The ministry also awards the Animal Welfare Research Prize.
The working group of Berlin Animal Welfare Officers is primarily a discussion forum for the approximately 50 Berlin animal welfare officers. Regular meetings serve to exchange experience and ideas in the field of laboratory animal science and the protection of laboratory animals in the sense of the 3Rs (Replace, Reduce, Refine). The working group also develops and publishes recommendations and statements.