Future 4 Wildlife requests EU to set less invasive standards in wildlife research



Djuro, the bear who grew into his defective collar, in Poland, is slowly succumbing due to his neck wounds, while the surveyors of the project seem to have abandoned the idea of  finding  him and rescuing him.


Djuro was also caught in an Aldrich snare, a leg-hold  trap, a  quite invasive device completely legal for researchers to use in Europe, his premolar was removed then his neck shaved and  imprisoned in a GPS collar, applied despite the bear was not fully grown.

This young bear was supposed to wear the device for two years, but the drop-off mechanism (pre-programmed automatic opening of the collar) has failed, and he is still wearing the non-functioning collar. GPS and radio emitter permitting to localise this bear and find him, have both failed too, and the collar was not equipped with auto-degradable security bands, as it should be.

There are other ways to collect data, non invasive, for the needs of study, like genetic and different analysis of droppings, collection of hair,  photo traps and cameras – the methodology of this particular study, starting from the day of the capture, has been everything but appropriate for a protected species or for any kind of animal.

Bears are normally trapped with Culvert traps while Aldrich snares are far more stressful to the animals.

Researchers should have the obligation to guarantee a possible stress-free capture and to provide the animal with an appropriate, good quality collar and, in case of its failure, to track the animal and free it from the device.







photo credit by Jake Steven Arnatsiaq


FUTURE 4 WILDLIFE.org (F4W), together with the  63.000 signers of this petition,


1. Fully supports field research on wild animals while in their own environment.

2. Recognizes the significant contribution to the quality of science involving the study and observation of animals free in their own habitat, with the finality to improve the welfare and prosperity of their species, to increase their protection and for environment conservation purposes.

3. Recognizes that EU Directives (DIR) have been implemented across the Member States (MS) in order to reduce disturbance, malpractice and individual abuse over animals during research and surveys.

4. Recognizes that there are detailed and specific restrictions relatives to animal research in laboratories, while such parameters are not necessarily applicable to wild animals  studied while free in their own environment.

5. Had observed the lack of specific restrictions and parameters in the EU DIR, for the research on Small Populations, Vulnerable and Endangered Species.

6. Had noted the legislation had been implemented at different levels and with different standards in different MS, where the sensibility and social ethic could vary. Parameters  in the DIR are in this sense vague  and leave the individual scientist the choice to how operate on wildlife, including Small Populations, Vulnerable and Endangered Species, according to his/her individual cultural background.

7. Is concerned about the criteria applied over a large number of species, including cetaceans, carnivores, birds and other animals in which unethical devices have been legally used for trapping or implanted over or inside the animals in order to monitor them and have been left on or inside these animals causing severe injuries or their death.

8. Is concerned about the overuse of anesthetic over specific species vulnerable to drugs.

9. Suggests the necessity to draw directives that regulate, in a uniform way across the MS, the standards and the ethics of the research, clearly specifying which systems are legal or not, for different species and along all the phases of the research. These standards should be updated on recent technologies which are less invasive, more accurate and often cheaper.

10. Firmly supports the implementation of the principle of the 3Rs (1-Reduce, 2-Refine, 3-Replace the use of animals) not only on laboratory animals but specifically on wildlife when studied while free in its own habitat.

photo credit by Depart. Düzce University and IZW Berlin



Wildlife is widely used in research, with the aim of understanding species behaviour and ecology, evaluating methodologies for control and management of the populations, for conservation and for the management of diseases.

In all circumstances, researchers should aim to minimize any negative impact on the welfare of animals involved. This is important either for the scientific validity of the research than for good animal welfare.

Many studies can involve manipulating animals with capture, marking, transportation, temporary captivation/housing, deployment and additional procedures which could cause stress. These practises, as well as radio tagging and collecting physiological data, as for example tissue samples, can also have delayed consequences, such as a reduced probability of survival and reproduction. Therefore, these procedures must be kept to the minimum, when strictly both necessary and justified.

Researchers should take in consideration the social structure and behaviour of the species under investigation. For example, the dependence of young exemplars on maternal care. For species with a complex social organization, removing a critical member of the social group can impair the well-being of the remaining group members. Such considerations may be pertinent even when the removal of animals is temporary.

Even purely observational studies, where there is no manipulation of the animals, can raise ethical concerns with regard to animal welfare and/or conservation. For example, human observation can disturb normal animal activities such that animals abandon their territories, home ranges or young. Making trails/transects through habitats to access, observe and census animals can also cause disturbance. Researchers should consider such issues when designing their studies. Camera traps can sometimes be used to avoid disturbing the animals either by trapping or direct observation.

photo credit by Martin Grosnick



Our attention was drawn by the story of Djuro the bear, which had grown into his collar and is currently succumbing due to its injuries and infections while researchers cannot find it to help it.

Bears serve as a good example to set restricted parameters as they are particularly vulnerable to incidents during research and surveys; a mortality of at least 3% of the exemplars under study have been registered.

Beside the famous case of Andy the Polar bear, which also grew into its collar and was rescued after months of suffering, there are a number of cases in which bears died because of their defective collars (Dino is another case). Also a few bear drowning cases were reported; the exemplars were shot with anesthesia close to water and drowned before the surveyors could rescue them. Also cases of bears separated by their own cubs during capture and cases of manipulation and accidental sedation of pregnant exemplars have been reported.

Due to a lack of specific and stricter directives, bears, as well as other big carnivores, are today still trapped with leg snares, leg traps and other cruel, outdated and unspecific devices across Europe, even when less invasive methods are available. According to many biologists, collars are no longer necessary during field studies on bears and their continued use is slowing development of less invasive technology. In fact, satellite tracking by collaring bears was critically important for science at early stages of population research, when it was not known how bears were distributed, what their spatial patterns were and what the population structure was. For the last number of years, though, collars have not brought any essential new knowledge about bear biology and population structure. On the other hand, non-invasive methods are not interfering with normal animal life, thus are methodologically more correct.

photo credit by Graham McGeorge



A strict applications of the 3Rs should be applied not only for laboratory research but also to wild animal field research; beside 1-Replacing animals with other methods and 2-Reducing the number of animals used, field research on free wild animals would require great attention on the 3-Refinement of the techniques used. These methods should be continuously updated to the more recent tools and strategies available, in order to reduce the impact on wild animals, in particular when they belong to small populations or are classified as vulnerable or endangered species.

In order to strictly regulate field research, categorization should be implemented and conditions for research permits, project evaluations and approval of licenses should conform to less invasive standards; an international Animal Welfare Body  should be appointed specifically for the approval of research projects in order to standardize the criteria and the ethic levels across Member States and with the scope to minimize disparities; every project should be specifically designed on the study species and should be approved before commencement.

Formalized training and exchange programs between Member States should be implemented as well as competence standards guaranteed; researchers should have the obligation to publish survey information and results at the conclusion of the project and lodge all results where they can be accessed and shared in the future.

Transparency between MS should be encouraged as well as the publishing of non-technical summaries and experiences in order to avoid study repetition; sharing data and resources and results, preferably in free access format must be considered a crucial matter.

Specific directives are required also because, on the opposite of most laboratory studies, samples are not easy to control in field studies. For example, it may be necessary to trap 100 animals in order to find 40 that meet the age and sex requirements for a study. In addition, there may be external factors, such as weather conditions, that may affect the data that can be collected. Also, manipulation of exemplars on the field can have a negative impact on the entire population of the species under observation and on other species and on the surrounding ecosystems. Therefore, differently from what is required in laboratory science, assessing potential sources of harm towards both study and non-study species and how these will be eliminated or minimized, should form part of all wildlife research proposals.

Any negative impact on animal welfare must be reduced by careful experimental design and by choosing the least invasive techniques available.

Issues to consider for groups of species include:

1. The capture and trapping procedures

2. The minimizing of the handling

3. The careful and competent use of drugs and anesthetic to prevent distress, the limited application of suitable and non-invasive temporary devices which must not interfere with the animal lifestyle, movability and agility and, except specific cases, must have a functional drop-off, tear-off system.

4. The implementation of the most suitable transportation non-invasive techniques, when necessary.

5. The housing criteria, when both necessary and justified

6. The deployment/release in a safe and known/adequate territory



In order to avoid disparities across MS, standards should be specified and should include:

6.1  Strict evaluation of experimental survey designs, which can reduce the number of animals necessary to achieve a valid result.

6.2 The evaluation of the pre-existing knowledge. In fact, the existing knowledge of the fauna in the proposed study area should be used to determine if a new survey is both necessary and justified. Sources of such information include published records in scientific journals, newsletters of scientific and natural history societies, biodiversity survey reports, and local knowledge as, for example, local councils, land management groups and holders. In fact, there may already be sufficient information about some species, in which case there will be no need to re-survey these. The application of pre-existing knowledge depends on the availability and accessibility of that knowledge. For that reason, wildlife surveyors should have the obligation to always publish survey information at the end of the study.

6.3 Any project should be appropriate to the objectives of the study; it should be based on sound scientific and statistical principles so that the results are valid; it should minimize the impact on animals.

6.4 Samples should be taken with no invasive strategies, including hair/ saliva/ dropping analysis, while the use of body-part samples should be prohibited and the removal of specific parts only permitted to save the life of the animal when injured or sick.

6.5 Surveyors must have practical training and be experienced and competent in all the techniques they intend to use and in emergency procedures.

6.6 Whenever possible, methods that do not require animals to be captured should be used (spotlight counts, AnaBat ™ detectors, Song Meter ™ acoustic recorders, hair tubes, playback calls and camera traps).

6.7 If animals must be captured, the least stressful methods available should be used. The biology of the animal in relation to the time of year of the survey must be taken in consideration, as well as the time of day of capture and release of the animals. Periods when there are high environmental stressors must be avoided. Animals should remain captive for the minimum time possible but, at the same time, be released only in safe space/time/weather condition.

6.8 Animals that have to be handled should be restrained gently and the procedures completed as quickly as possible.

6.9 Animals that have to be temporarily held after capture should be housed in a way appropriate to their biology and as free from environmental stressors as possible.

8.10 If species identification is necessary, methods used should be non-invasive and temporary and should not adversely interfere with the normal functioning of the animal.

photo credit by Cook County Urban Coyote Research Project


EU DIR should clearly specify which strategies and devices are:

1 – Permitted,

2- Restricted,

3- Prohibited.

This should include categorization for different species or groups of species; the procedures indicated as permitted or restricted should be updated to the least invasive standards available internationally.

Among the criteria, the DIR should clarify specific limitations and in particular:

7.1 The collection of body parts as samples for identification should be prohibited. Removal of parts would only be justified to save the animal in case of injury or disease; with the recent advances in genetic screening, wildlife surveyors should consider taking only hair/saliva/feathers/scales/skin-scraping/ faeces samples that can be used for genetic analysis. Some mammal species leave signs sufficiently distinctive to provide positive identification. Signs which indicate the presence of species or groups of species should be used in surveys wherever possible. Others methods could be used for field identification, as, for example, photographs and sound recordings.

7.2 Surveyors should take basic precautions to prevent animal–animal, animal– human and human–animal transfer of disease. Such precautions include the researchers to keep a high level of personal hygiene; to wash field clothes and equipment that has come into contact with animals’ blood or body fluids and to clean all survey equipment between surveys.

7.3 Emergency procedures must be planned in advance in order to ensure that threats to the welfare of animals are mitigated. Emergencies include events such as injuries to animals, inclement weather, floods, bushfires and the illness or injury of the surveyors. In particular, arrangements must be made to clear and close all traps in the event of inclement weather, floods and bushfires or in the event that illness or injury removes the investigator from the field. Arrangements must be made to appropriately transport seriously injured animals to the nearest veterinarian for treatment, noting that injured animals should be taken to veterinarians initially rather than to wildlife carers.

7.4 Researchers should have the appropriate skills and equipment to euthanize animals seriously injured by accidental circumstances. Euthanasia must be by an approved method, humane and must produce a painless death as rapidly as possible.

7.5 Differently from what is established by EU DIR for laboratory animal research, euthanasia should never be used for voucher specimen or data collection from wild animals.

7.6 Scientist should aim at zero mortality, while, the same time, accidental injuries or fatalities should always be reported.

7.7 The use of camera traps over other methods for collecting information should be promoted and techniques suggested; ad example, Infrared cameras are less intrusive than white flash cameras but do not distinguish some species sufficiently, as they do not distinguish colour. Also the evaluation of the methods for measuring body weight, respiration rate, heart rate, pulse rate, body temperature and body lengths should follow specific parameters.

7.8 Sampling hair, feathers, scales, skin scrapings, saliva of faeces instead of blood samples or other invasive sampling should be indicated as best methods as well as the less invasive methods of attracting animals; for example live baiting should be a prohibited procedure; on the other hand, the use of remote video surveillance to limit the habituation to humans should also be specifically required.

7.9 When capture is necessary, the use of the trapping method with the least impact must be specifically requested. The type of trap must be appropriate to the species being targeted. The trapping at times of the year when animals may be susceptible to greater stress, such as during breeding seasons or droughts or inclement weather, must be avoided. Standards on the time in traps set to the minimum possible are also an issue. The obligation to check more frequently and release pregnant or lactating females is a matter of priority. Other crucial parameters could be the obligation to keep traps in good working order, cleaned and checked immediately prior to use; the limitation of the number of traps set per field worker, so that traps can be cleared in two hours; the continuous trapping of the same individuals should be forbidden; the use of bait appropriate to diet of the target species, indicated; the bait should not only lure the animal into the trap, it should also replace the food and moisture it would have consumed had it not been trapped; the location planning for each trap to reduce exposure of trapped animals to the sun, wind, rain, extreme heat or cold should be indicated as essential conduct as well as the closure of traps at night where extremely cold and during the day in very hot areas. Placing traps in areas of high ant activity should be forbidden. Traps should be numbered in order to be easily and regularly checked. The necessity to release animals as soon as possible and where they were caught must be indicated as well as the obligation to cease trapping immediately if there has been an unusually high mortality of animals.

7.10 Regulations should include directives on how to best use box traps or Elliot traps or cage traps with the obligation to properly choose locations which are sheltered by flooding and extreme weather; also, specific trap bedding, which would not cause harm or hypothermia should be mentioned.

7.11 Radio tracking transmitters and GPS collars have been very discussed recently. For certain species with a recognized economic value they have been  suspected source of information for poachers and hackers. In certain cases have been reported to be harming the study animal to the degree to altering its lifestyle and chances of survival. Tracking systems should only be used when necessary and justified and by individuals with extensive expertise and in exceptional circumstances. The relative high cost precludes their use except when other methods are totally unsuitable for Small Populations, Endangered or Vulnerable species. Full justification and a detailed description of the methods, equipment, monitoring and impact on the animals must be provided. The methods used to attach transmitters should be one that has been previously used on the same or similar species and has been proved to be satisfactory. Total package (collar, transmitter, and battery, aerial and bonding material) should have a weight and size to not impact on the movements and agility of the animal and should not be used in species where it would interfere with locomotion as aquatic, burrowing animals. Harnesses should only be used where the shape of the animal’s head/neck means that a collar can be removed by the animal. Surgical grade ‘super glue’ should be used instead of a collar or harness in smaller species, and in platypus or other aquatic animals to attach the transmitter directly to the animal’s’ fur, scales or feathers and to ensure that attachment is temporary only. Transmitters should be removed from all animals at the end of the survey. In areas where ticks occur, care should be taken in using collars as they may prevent the animal from grooming normally and removing the tick, alternatives to collars should be used. The site for attaching transmitters must be specific for the target species and must not cause harm or prolonged discomfort.

7.12 Environmental manipulation and close examination of den sites and nests when this involves handling and/or removal of young animals or eggs or other objects should be strictly prohibited.

7,13 Strategies to minimize transport or to properly transport should be indicated for specific species. In case it is necessary the temporary housing and maintenance in captivity, directives should be specified. In fact, for most wild animal species there are no specific guidelines and code of practice on care and accommodation; outdoor housing where appropriate should be promoted; changes to diet avoided and access to food/water simplified; social  deprivation in grouping species should also be avoided, as well as the disturbing interactions between species -predator-prey-, within species -competition- and between species and habitat.

7.14 Guidelines also for the use of spotlights or hair tubes should be implemented, to avoid stress or, in the case of hair tubes, the accidental capture and/ or injuring of non-target animals.

credit photo by Associated Press


8.1 The necessity to distinguish details, in the DIR, between laboratory science and field science is evident but, at the same time, a strict applications of the 3Rs should be applied not only for laboratory research but for wild animal research too.

8.2 The lack of criteria in the DIR, specifically in relation to the study of wild animals, is alarming and requires the normatives to be revised  and also regularly updated according to the least invasive standards and best technologies available.

8.3 The disparities of best practice and ethic levels across the MS should be addressed and corrected through clear EU legislation regarding this specific matter.

8.4 In order to avoid such disparities, all phases of any study projects should commence only when formally approved by an International Animal Welfare Body appointed by EU.

8.5 A detailed set of regulating principles should include which procedures and devices are:

a)  Prohibited (example, leg hold traps and snares, live baiting, indiscriminate trapping)

b)  Restricted; (example specific caging, darting)

c)  Permitted; (example foto trapping, hair trapping)

8.6 This should cover all the phases of the direct or indirect contact with wild animals which may include:

1  Capture

2  Handling

3  Transportation

4  Temporary housing when both necessary and justified

5  Deployment

8.6 In order to minimize the negative impact these phases of the contact may have on wildlife, each of the above points should be developed into an array of conditions and precautions specific for species/ groups of species, according to the most recent literature.



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